“It’s run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible! This is an ex-semester!”

Well, almost (I know, I keep teasing you!) The title is, of course, a rip off of Monty Python’s brilliant Parrot Sketch. After reading essays for five hours (and a couple more hours to go), it’s about the height of intellectual activity that I can handle at the moment, so the best I could do for Friday’s Word of the Week is to find different ways of saying done! Finished! Over! Ended! Completed! With the submission of final grades over the weekend, I shall be putting the semester to rest, sending it up the river, kicking it to the curb, and, my personal favorite, putting the kibosh on it.

As far as I can tell, no one really knows the true origin of the phrase to put the kibosh on something. The most popular theories put its origins with Yiddish, Scots Gaelic, Irish Gaelic, and Turkish. It is generally accepted, at least, that it first appeared in print in London newspapers in 1834 and spread from there.

There’s an exhaustive exploration of the various factors involved in the term kibosh on World Wide Words  and even more great information on the Oxford University Press blog, but here’s the quick lo-down:

1. Yiddish: It seems this explanation was only put forth because kibosh vaguely sounds Yiddish and/or Hebrew. It’s an unlikely explanation because of a lack of evidence that Yiddish had any influence on English 19th century slang.

2. Scots Gaelic: Supposedly from the term cia-baios, the phrase would have meant “what nonsense!” Although there is no linguistic or historical proof to support this explanation, it seems to live on for no apparent reason.

3. Irish Gaelic: This seems to be the one that has more credibility, although it’s still not a airtight case. The theory is that judges wore a black cap called a cie báiscaidhp (an) bháis or caidhpín (an) bháis when sentencing criminals to death. To put the kibosh on something or someone then became associated with ending something’s life.

4. Turkish: In 1834, J.J. Morier wrote Ayesha and popularized the term ‘bosh’, from the Turkish boş, meaning ‘empty’. It was posited that kibosh is a version of the prefix ker- (as in kerplunk) plus bosh, but this theory was also dismissed because it’s unlikely it could have appeared in one form in the novel and then evolved into the newspaper form so quickly.

While discovering the history of this expression was certainly interesting, I kept getting sidetracked by the intriguing story of Yiddish. I found myself immersed in articles and maps, and digging out my copy of Born to Kvetch to find out more about the uniqueness of this language. It was torture knowing that I had to put my research down and get to the more pressing issues of grading and answering students’ panicky questions about the final exam.

The exiting part, of course, is that in just a day or two, I can return to this subject and explore it more fully for a post in the very near future. I also am looking forward to other subjects I can sink my teeth into this summer. The possibility of a summer class is slim and would essentially come about only if another teacher couldn’t do his or her assigned course, so I am looking at the delicious opportunity to devote more time to reading and writing over the next 3 months.

I welcome the chance to offer ‘meatier’ topics than I’ve given this week (perhaps hectic should have been my Word of the Week!), and I will also take requests! Is there anything you’d like to read about? Any language questions you’d like me to address? Anyone? Bueller?

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6 thoughts on ““It’s run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible! This is an ex-semester!”

    • It’s true – and for me, I associate the term very much with NY and have rarely heard it elsewhere, so it’s strange to think of 1834 English journalists using kibosh.

  1. Sounds like a serious case of BRAIN DRAIN. I recommend a good audio book (of your choice…) and a pitcher of Mochacinos (Chocolate ice cream blended with chilled Hazelnut coffee) . Give your eyes a rest and your brain a breather. VEG!

    • That’s the plan, my friend! Well, perhaps the pitcher will contain margaritas and the audio book will turn into seasons 3-6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but there will definitely be some serious vegging going on :)

  2. David L. Gold has published a 57-page article on the etymology of the word kibosh, which is extracted from a longer treatment in preparation. A notice I got a few days ago says that it is now also available on line free of charge (the URL is ua.ua.es/dspace/handle/…/browse?type…Gold%2C+David+L. and you can also get to the appropriate website by searching for this string: RUA Alicante Browse David L. Gold). Four other print articles of his are freely downloadable there too and you can also get information on his 870-page book Studies in Etymology and Etiology (With Emphasis on Germanic, Jewish, Romance, and Slavic Languages).

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