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Word Wisdom: Kibosh

The latest inspirational column from Rev. Dr. John Kreutzwieser.
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Word Wisdom

In Sketches by Boz, Charles Dickens (1812-1879) wrote the following, “‘What do you mean by hussies?’ interrupted a champion of the other party, who has evinced a strong inclination to get up a branch fight on her own account. ‘Hooroar,’ ejaculates a pot-boy, ‘put the kyebosk on her, Mary!”

The word kibosh (kyebosk in Dickens) means prevent from continuing. A kibosh is something that serves as a check or stop on things. A mother might exclaim, “I’m putting the kibosh on this game to gain a little control in this house.”

The Dickens quotation is not the earliest use of the word that has been found. Kibosh was used in several London journals in late 1834. It stemmed from a case in a London court that concerned two chimney sweeps. They were convicted of having touted for business by crying their services in the streets and so were fined a shilling each, plus costs. During the trial one of the sweeps made an insinuation that the recent change of government, from the Whigs to the Conservatives, who were being temporarily led by the Duke of Wellington, was the result of the law that convicted them. “It vos the Vigs vot passed this Bill, and what the Duke of Vellington put the kibosh on ’em for, and sarve ’em right. It warnt nothing else than this here hact vot floored ’em.,” he said. The papers promoted the story that the real cause of the “kiboshing” of the ex-Chancellor and his crew was the adopting of the Whig Act. The chimneysweep blamed his conviction on the Whig Act which banned “hawking on the streets.” He maintained that the Duke and the Conservatives defeated the Whigs for passing the law.  The London newspaper The Observer printed the following on 30 November 1834, “Now the Duke of Vellington as put the “Kibosh” on ‘em, vich they never would have got if they hadn’t passed it.”

Though the word kibosh was used by Dickens and the London papers, its origins are obscure. Charles P.G. Scott (1909) put forward the proposition that kibosh is in a league with words like caboodle and canoodle, which add a ‘kÉ™’ sound to a root for emphasis. Although, with kibosh the stress is on the first syllable, which is not the case with these other words. The Turkish origin of bosh in Scott’s explanation is a reference to the 1834 James Morier novel, Ayesha, the Maid of Kars. The Turkish word bosh, meaning “nonsense” or “foolish talk,” is used throughout the novel, which was extremely popular at the time and the route by which the Turkish word entered English, claimed Scott. “They are spurious. They are bosh—nothing.”

"Belgium Put the Kibosh on the Kaiser" was a popular British patriotic song of the First World War. It was first recorded on 6 October 1914 by Mark Sheridan. The song refers to the 1914 campaign in Belgium when the small British Expeditionary Force, along with an unexpectedly fierce Belgian defence, managed to delay the much larger German army, slowing them, and wrecking the Schlieffen Plan.

There is another story that posits the origin of kibosh to the Irish ‘caidhp bhais,’ meaning cap of death. This refers to the headgear a judge puts on when pronouncing a death sentence in court. The phrase is also used of the covering put on a face when the coffin is closed. In this instance kibosh has a very final connotation.

Shawn Farshchi wrote in Forbes (December 2021), “Even with Covid-19 putting the kibosh on travel — or perhaps even because of it — our study found that the demand for international opportunities has increased.” The current pandemic has certainly put a kibosh on many things around the world. Hopefully we can say soon, “We have put the kibosh on COVID19.”

Columnist John Kreutzwieser loves to research words and writes this weekly Word Wisdom column for Moose Jaw Express/MooseJawToday.com.  He has an interest in the usage, origin, and relevance of words for society today. Greek and Latin form the basis of many words, with ancient Hebrew shedding light on word usage.

John would like to know if anyone has a sincere interest in a relevant word that he could possibly research for an upcoming column. If so, please send your requests to wordwisdom2021@gmail.com . Words will be selected according to relevance and research criteria. We cannot confirm that all words will be used.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.