Origin of Kibosh: Routledge Studies in Etymology, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Origin of Kibosh

Routledge Studies in Etymology, 1st Edition

By Gerald Cohen, Stephen Goranson, Matthew Little


162 pages

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Hardback: 9781138628953
pub: 2017-10-09
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This is an etymological study of the origins of the word kibosh, which has long been one of the great mysteries of the English language. Unconvincing derivations have been suggested from Yiddish to Gaelic and Italian, and thus far consensus among lexicographers has leaned toward referencing the word as ‘origin unknown’.


In this study, the authors present convincing and important new evidence in favour of the derivation of kibosh from the word for a fearsome Middle Eastern whip, known as the kurbash.


This monograph is one of the most significant etymological works directed at a single phrase. It is the gold standard on deep-drill, focused and exhaustive single-word lexicography and will be of interest to lexicographers and linguists in the relevant fields.


"Mr Cohen […] worked with his co-authors to piece together how "kibosh" came into British usage in the 1830s. The resulting book 'Origins of Kibosh' in the Routledge Studies in Etymology series, settles on a convincing origin story." - Ben Zimmer, Wall Street Journal, 30-31 December 2017

"Read 'Origin of Kibosh' and you will indeed by instructed and amused." - Anatoly Liberman, The Oxford Etymologist, 29 November 2017

Table of Contents

CHAPTER 1: Overview

CHAPTER 2: Introduction: ‘Origin unknown’; previous works; chronology

CHAPTER 3: Penal Servitude! continued

CHAPTER 4: Spread of put the kibosh on from Cockney

CHAPTER 5: Kibosh in several newspaper accounts

CHAPTER 6: Additional attestations of kibosh

CHAPTER 7: Three competing etymologies are unconvincing

CHAPTER 8: General observations


Appendix #1: Anatoly Liberman’s 2013 article ‘Three Recent

Theories of Kibosh, continued’ (Aug. 14, 2013)

Appendix #2: kibosh-from-kurbash etymology, evidently first

Proposed by Matthew Little (Nov. 2009)

Appendix #3: Several newspaper items about chimney sweeps

Appendix #4: Political complexities in Britain of the early 1830s

Appendix #5: Notes & Queries items on a Yiddish origin of


Appendix #6: Two pictures illustrating use of the kurbash



About the Authors

Gerald Cohen is Professor of German and Russian, with a research specialty in etymology, at Missouri University of Science and Technology, USA.

Stephen Goranson works in the library of Duke University, where he also earned a doctorate.

Matthew Little is Associate Professor of English at Mississippi State University.

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