‘Myers puts the Kibosh on it ! or, On desperately Seeking an Alternative roll of T-paper to wipe my’ers with”. by Perkin Warbeck


Putting the Kibosh on it ?

Over now to Whicker’s Wonderful World of Wikipedia.



Unknown. Possibilities include:

Compare bosh (“nonsense”).


Many words in English have obscure origins, particularly those that first appeared in argot, cant or slang. None is more mysterious than kibosh, which is most commonly encountered in the phrase to put the kibosh on something, to finish something off, put an end to it, decisively dispose of it, or reject it. This is perhaps less common than it once was, though examples are easy enough to find:


I think he would have loved to stay in the RAF, being a search and rescue pilot, but that branch’s privatisation put the kibosh on that.

The Sun (London), 18 Feb. 2016.


The word originated in Britain in the early part of the nineteenth century. Until recently, it was believed that the first written evidence was in Charles Dickens’s Sketches by Boz of 1836, where he spelled it phonetically as kye-bosk (Douglas Wilson of the American Dialect Society has recently discovered that the same piece appeared in the magazine Bell’s Life in London the year before).

Now we have electronic databases of newspapers and periodicals that cover this period, slightly earlier appearances are known. It turned up in a number of London journals within a few days of each other in late 1834, following a case in a London magistrates’ court that concerned two chimney sweeps, who were convicted of having touted for business by crying their services in the streets (they were fined a shilling each, plus costs).


One of the sweeps made a whimsical comment on the recent change of government from the Whigs to the Conservatives, the latter being temporarily led by the Duke of Wellington:


The real cause of the “kiboshing” of the ex-Chancellor and his crew came out on Tuesday at Marlborough-street, before Mr. Dyer. A chimney-sweep was convicted for having (according to the phraseology of this Whig Act) “hawked the streets” — upon which his Blackness remarked: — “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.”

The Age, 30 Nov. 1834. Note the frequent substitution of w by v, a characteristic of working-class London speech of the period. The newspaper seems to have liked the word, since kiboshing appears again a week later to refer to a terse rebuff by the King, William IV, to an impertinent suggestion from a group of politicians, and kiboshoccurs several more times in later months.


Another early example came out of a court case at the Mansion House in the City of London before the Lord Mayor the following year. It related to purported threats of murder by other Jews against an immigrant German Jew named Myers because, Myers said, they believed him to have naturalised, converted to Judaism, which was considered unacceptable:


Please you, my lord, I an’t no such a thing; I am a real Jew, and I never was naturalized. They say so to rise [raise?] the kibosh against me, and my vife, vot I vas a valking mid, vhen they comes down upon us. Ve goes reglar to the synagogue, and the gentlemen knows it.

The Sun (London), 15 May 1835.


The Lord Mayor clearly found Myers and his wife to be unreliable witnesses; the defendants described Myers as “the very worst of beggars and imposters”, with Mrs Myers going about in a turban begging in the streets with her children; a spectator claimed to have seen the whole family “as black as chimney sweeps”, a curious echo of the case the previous year, though the darkening of the skin was presumably to make them seem more exotic. Later in his evidence, Myers said he couldn’t swear to Jews having struck him, but he added “They get other Jews to give me the kibosh upon me, and its all the same to me which of the whole set struck me. All I say, is, that me and my poor wife vill be killed at last by them. They are all against us — all the Jews.”


But what is the origin of this strange word? If I am to be boring about it, the most likely answer is that nobody knows for sure: certainly that’s the careful response of most dictionaries. None of the early examples even give us any clear idea what the kibosh actually was, except that it was something unpleasant. It might have been as intangible as the evil eye or as manifest as a bludgeon. The extent of the confusion is demonstrated by the variety of meanings attributed to the word in slang dictionaries later in the century: a bad accident or defeat; rubbish, nonsense, humbug; 18 pence; good style or the height of fashion (“that’s the proper kibosh”) and, in the middle twentieth century, a prison term of 18 months.


The most popular story is that kibosh derives from Yiddish or Hebrew, though the details vary from author to author. The link with the number 18 has led to the theory that it’s from Hebrew chai, whose literal meaning is “life”, but which in the numerological system of gematria, which allocates numbers to letters, means 18. This is why Jews often give cash donations in multiples of 18, symbolising life. Because of this number link, Eric Partridge suggested that kibosh might be a variation on the London slang term fourpenny one, a clip around the ear, which would neatly explain some of the earliest examples.


In this theory, the bosh part is usually assumed to be the slang word for nonsense. This is actually a Turkish word meaning empty or worthless; it came into English as the result of James Justinian Morier’s novel Ayesha; however, this only appeared in 1834, probably too late to influence the creation of kibosh. This also disposes of an alternative suggestion that holds that kibosh is the Turkish word prefixed by ker-, an echoic addition to many words, such as kerflop and kerplunk, that’s intended to imitate the sound of some heavy body falling, or the result of its doing so. A severe objection to this is that the ker- prefix is American and isn’t recorded before the 1830s, so that speculation fails on the dating evidence for both elements.


Another interesting conjecture that has been advocated several times, notably by the Irish poet, Padraic Colum, is that kibosh is Gaelic, from the phrase variously cited as cie báiscaidhp (an) bháis or caidhpín (an) bháis, cap of death, where báis is pronounced “bawsh” and cie is said with a hard initial consonant. The cap is said to have been the one worn by judges when pronouncing sentence of death. However, I can’t find any evidence for this expression.


It is said by some (notably Julian Franklyn) that kibosh has a heraldic origin, being derived from caboshed; this is the heraldic description of the emblem of an animal which is shown full-face, but cut off close to the ears so that no neck shows. It’s hard to see how the shift in usage and sense could have happened.


Might it have been a physical object? Stephen Goranson of the American Dialect Society has suggested that it may be from the Arabic qurbāsh, Turkish qirbāch, or French courbache, which is conventionally spelled as kurbash in English, though intriguingly he has found an example spelled kibosh in a book of 1892. This is a whip about a yard in length, made of hippopotamus or rhinoceros hide. The kurbash was known in English works about Egypt and Turkey before the 1830s, but we may guess that it wasn’t well known to the men and women of the London streets, in which kibosh clearly originated. However, it’s just possible that some immigrants may have had personal acquaintance with it (we know that examples were brought back to Britain by travellers earlier in the nineteenth century).

A newspaper report in the middle of the nineteenth century, which Douglas Wilson has found, is a rare one that actually equates the kibosh with an object. It comes from testimony in the Clerkenwell Police Court in east London in a case in which a clogmaker was set upon by others in the same trade as the result of a union dispute, in which a kibosh was allegedly used as a weapon:


I did not speak to Bamforth. I did not challenge him to fight, nor did I strike him or knock him down. I know what a kybosh is (a laugh). It is a piece of iron about a foot long; but I did not use one.

Lloyds Weekly Newspaper, 14 Oct. 1860.


It’s indeed likely this was a clogmaker’s tool. In 2011 the American researcher David L Gold published a long discussion of kibosh in a Spanish journal, Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses. He had been told that bosh was once a clogmakers’ term for a heated iron bar used to soften and smooth leather. He was unaware of a detailed article on clogmaking late in the nineteenth century, which suggests the term was in fact kibosh:


Take a “kibosh” (this is just a half-round file, with marks ground out, and then polished), and warm it over the gas, being careful not to get it too hot, so as to burn the top, and taking hold of each end with both hands, rub the top all over. This is called “kyboshing.” Having kiboshed your top, get a little size, which is made by dissolving a small piece of glue about the size of a penny-piece in about half a teacupful of water, and with a sponge size your top all over, and let it stand until dry.

Work, 1 Jul. 1893.


This is intriguing, though bothersome, because we then have to account for the ki- prefix, which presents the same difficulties as ker-, and why a specialist technical term from a minor industry more associated with northern England than with London should have become so widely known in the capital. It does however make one wonder whether the original kibosh earlier in the century was a sort of cosh.

Someday perhaps, some earnest researcher will find more information about the word that ties its origin to one of these explanations, or one nobody has yet thought of, which will really put the kibosh on all this speculation.

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9 Responses to ‘Myers puts the Kibosh on it ! or, On desperately Seeking an Alternative roll of T-paper to wipe my’ers with”. by Perkin Warbeck

  1. Colmán July 31, 2017 at 9:49 pm #

    Etymology of “bosh” introduced from Turkish in novel Ayesha,” popular 1834 romance novel by J.J. Morier (1780-1849) by the looks of things:


    • Colmán July 31, 2017 at 10:22 pm #

      I see you already mentioned this. Should have read the whole article first 🙂

  2. Colmán July 31, 2017 at 9:59 pm #

    Interestingly the substitution of w for v is also a feature of some native speakers of Irish when speaking in English. Could it be that the man in your example was Irish? “Put the kibosh on him” seems to be an Irish construct. I take it that ‘his blackness’ refers to Ó Duibhir – Dyer.

  3. Perkin Warbeck August 1, 2017 at 8:03 am #

    Maith thú, a Cholmáin.

    I have come across the v/w switcheroo in the bars of Aranmore (the Donegal franchise) of the uninsured, untaxed VW-clogged boreens where the following order is not unknown:

    -Mine’s a Wodca and Vhite !

    In an unusually short entry, Dineeen’s Green Book is seen to show that ‘caidhp’ means ‘coif’ which, sans doute, is short for ‘coiffure’. All of which go-figures.

    Moving in a gong-tormeneted, storm-tossed manner from Donegal West down the Wild Atlantic Way to Cork West of the West B’s. In all the hoo-hah to do, yaw, with the booting out of Our Kev on his surname from the London Chunderer (Dublin versh) de Rebel County connection has been quite overlooked, like .

    The fact that Scaramooch was also fired on the same day by John Kelly the Boy from the Killing Fields, for his, the Mooch’s abject failure to dance proper , the, erm, Fandango also contributed to the overlook in q.

    Our Kev, of course, was one of the Rib-ticklers of Skib in the neo-Comedy Festival in the Land of Leo known as :

    -The Great Comical, Conical D-cap of 14-18.

    Frank Fitzgibbon, the editor of the Celtic Chunderer, who took full responsibility etc. , is a son of a son of De Rebel County, boy. De Da would have been the dystopian DJ who made his name by Taking the Floor in the Fabulous Fifties, during which he brought the joys of Céili Dancing to the ears of the Radio Eirean nation.

    All done under the broadcasting brand name of:

    -Din Joe (for it was he!).

    Characteristic of RTE, the name itself ‘Take the Floor’ was a ‘borrowed’ one – from a Scottish programme of highland reels and jigs. Just as the name of the never-ending, tellly and custard -pie show called ‘The Late, Late Show’ (would that it were ! would that it were !) was borrowed from the USA.

    One of the regular dance routines on Take the Floor was:

    -Caidhp an Chúil Aird or (gasp) The High-Cauled Cap.

    While one of double-jobbing DJ Din Joe Fitzgibbon’s (who was simultaneously Sales Director in Ireland for – gulp mór – VW) catchphrases on the wireless, was:

    -Round the kichen and mind the dresser !

    Speaking of dressers, whose inner fashionista can EVER forget that Day of Days when the Bog-Oak Monolith finally, both Fine-ally and Fianna-lly, erm, Matured. Dieser Tag der Tage when Our Herr Kev, normally the Raj of Smart Caj, was dressed up to the Nines in a 3 x 3 bespoke suit and in a gorgeous Coif which made the usually tousled-haired hack barely recognisable.

    When accompanying his Royal Role Model, Meine Hausfau Saxe-Coburg-Goth (aka Die Schapechanger) to the solemn, ceremonial laying of a wreath for all those heroic Hibernos who gave their lives willingly for Der Kaiser’s Schilling, oops, the King’s Shilling.

    This much written about, writhing wreath-laying took place in the Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge, Duibhlinn 8 , which was designed by Edwin Lutyens, aka ‘ the designer to die for’.

    Lutyens also designed the neo-version of Old Dehli when the Raj ordained that the neo-capital of Leo’s ancestrals land should be switched from Kolkata.

    It even became known as ‘New Lutyens’.

    Mention of India reminds one of the time and Times when the unforgettably fiery one took umbrage and not in a humble way, at the then recent brazen reversal to the (gulp) original Indian words of Indian cities:

    -I, for one, chundered Our Kev, will NOT, repeat NOT, be stooping to use this Mumbai tommyrot. There will always be, for me, a Bombay.

    ( -What next ? Duibhlinn ? Cue The Blackpool-style Postcard Revival)

    Yesterday, Leo Vee followed the lead of the Chavista , took due umbrage and CALLED out Our Kev which has led to the latter’s departure in (apparently) high, how-de-do dudgeon. As high even as a howdah on an elephant’s back, according to some unspecified but reliable (very) sources.

    Will Wrad/ Vrad the First call restropectively Our Kev out on this dissing of the Indians?

    The same sources (see just above ) are suggesting that this is one bouncy bouncy rubber ball which Leo Vee did not choose to hop, going forward in bebop time.

    The rhapsodic Freddy Mercury (see Fandango above) was borned, incidentally, in Mumbai, oops, Bombay.

    All along the Coast of Malabar.

  4. Colmán August 1, 2017 at 8:24 am #

    Very very funny Perkin!

  5. Perkin Warbeck August 1, 2017 at 8:56 am #

    GRMA, A Cholmáin.

    The moral of the above being:

    The son shudda heeded the advice of his Da.

    He shudda minded the…..dresser.

    Especially the occasional one.

  6. Brian Patterson August 1, 2017 at 2:05 pm #

    Sorry to contradict you (again) Perkin but I do believe the Mercurial Frederick was born in Zanzibar. These minor errors however in no way detract from the merit of your work which is encyclopaedic in volume, meticulously researched and indicative of a remorseless pursuit of knowledge. However trivial. But hugely enjoyable

  7. Perkin Warbeck August 1, 2017 at 3:28 pm #

    GRMA, a Bhriain.

    Quite true: the mercruial Freddy, a member of the Parsi minority which originated in Persia / Iran was indeed born in Zanibar but he was brought up and schooled in Mumbai (or Bombay as it still known in Myreland).

    Indeed, I have a recollection of flying hack from Mumbai once and finding myself seated beside two Parisian documentary makers who had just spent a fruitful month filming in the city.

    They told me how they had shot footage at the Tower of Silence on Malabar Hill which is akin to Mumbai what the Hill of Howth is to Dublin. They also told me how the old Parsi tradition of laying out the corpse on top of the Tower to be picked clean by the vultures was under threat by the local Municipiality of Malabar.

    On account of some pickings being dropped from the beaks of the sated vultures down into the reservoirs of the city.

    And then there was when one’s inner clanger dropper made his move, albeit unintentionally.

    When I assumed they had inlcuded a segment on Freddy M in their filming they both looked at me, puzzled.


    Too late I realised, and not for the first time, I should have kept mo bhéal dúnta. They hadn’t heard of Freddy’s Mumbai connection. If we’d been on a bus they’d have asked the driver to turn back.

    Talk about putting a kibosh of their venture.

    Zut ! Alors !

  8. Brian Patterson August 3, 2017 at 6:35 am #

    “Iran all the way home!”