Origin of Kibosh : Routledge Studies in Etymology book cover
1st Edition

Origin of Kibosh
Routledge Studies in Etymology

ISBN 9781138628953
Published October 12, 2017 by Routledge
172 Pages

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Book Description

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.

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



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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.


"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 be instructed and amused."

-- Anatoly Liberman, The Oxford Etymologist, 29 November 2017

'To the extent that it presents all the relevant evidence, unvarnished, thus inviting serious scholars to participate in the etymological thinking that accompanies the evidence, Origin of Kibosh sets a great example and makes its case.  It’s a small work of meticulous scholarship that will appeal to specialists in English (for its narrative) and etymologists (for its method).’

-- Michael Adams, Dictionaries (Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America), pp.289-298, Volume 41, Issue 2 (2020)