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AWADmail Issue 765

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Tidbits about Words and Language

Sponsor’s Message: Congrats to the Email of the Week winner, Richard Alexander (see below), who’ll receive our acclaimed One Up! -- The Wicked/Smart Word Game, a quick, canny, and sometimes unfun hoot. Competitive smart alecks may want to check out our latest blog post, “Algae are Scum!” -- which asks the provocative question: Are you smarter than an amoeba?

From: Chris Handley (chris redheron.com)
Subject: This week’s words

The most likely explanation is that they have been given new histories as part of the Word Protection Program (just like humans in the Witness Protection Program).

Chris Handley, Dunedin, New Zealand

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Origin unknown

Lots of readers sent lots of theories about possible origins of this week’s words. Some were very confident, others not so. Irrespective of the confidence level of the sender, we have to continue saying “origin unknown” about each of these words until we have corroborating evidence. It’s not as if we are playing a president on TV (video, 1 min.).

Thanks for taking the time to send the stories you have come across. Here’s a selection.


Kibush means victory in Hebrew. I don’t think this origin is unknown at all. It is 100% Hebrew, which comes to us via Yiddish.
-Susannah Michaels, Wisconsin (susannah_michaels hotmail.com)

There is a variety of very large, hard squash known as a calabosh. In India, for example, one finds these squashes hollowed out, dried, and ornately etched upon to create a decorative bowl. One can only imagine that dropping a fresh calabosh on someone’s head to stop them would definitely do the trick, if not worse. Thus “kibosh”, spelled as it is pronounced, is a corruption of “calabosh”. Maybe? Home-brewed theories like this one are a little too facile to take at face value, so I hold it in abeyance.
-Antonio Christopher Dittmann, Vashon, Washington (dittmann.antonio comcast.net)

In the British criminal justice system, which prevailed in Ireland until independence, before pronouncing a death sentence, judges would place a black cap on top of their wigs, a practice which continued in Britain until abolition of the death penalty. In Gaelic, this cap was known as “caip bais” (with an accent on the second “a”). This is pronounced “kipe baw-ish” and is the most likely origin.
-Jack Gibson, Toronto, Canada (ack030543 gmail.com)

I have wondered if kibosh was an intensified version of “cosh”, that being the proper Victorian thug’s stealthy tool with which to knock out one’s lights. The thing we here in America call a blackjack. I can’t find any origins for cosh, only that it appears in mid-19th century England, similar to kibosh in that regard. A cosh delivering a bash could perhaps become a kibosh in the way that “total” was intensified to “Tee-total” among the abstinence crowd.
-Joel Mabus, Kalamazoo, Michigan (joel.mabus pobox.com)

I think in ancient Ireland the ki-bosh was a tall crown-like headpiece that was very heavy. It may have kept someone from doing something to wear such a heavy hat? No surety, but a clue for you to explore?
-Linda Owens, Exeter, Rhode Island (lindafowens netzero.net)

Calabash? As in witch doctor, to do with spells, curses, wand. No authority, but this could be closer than the rest and possibly derived from Christian missionary work in Africa pre-C20, or Allied armed forces in N Africa. Touch of Cockney slang in its adoption. My late father who served in N Africa during World War 2 used it frequently.
-Noach Stern, Melbourne, Australia (noach mac.com)


I was told that years ago Orthodox Jews, who were forbidden from cooking or housework on the Sabbath, often hired African Americans to do these things, and when the woman of the house was asked whether the table was set correctly she said col b’seder, which is Hebrew for “everything is in order,” and this phrase was taken up by jazz musicians to describe a combo that was, so to speak, “in the groove.”
-Anthony Kline, San Francisco, California (anthony.kline jud.ca.gov)

If com- (with, together) and pac- (peace), then maybe it was coined, jocularly, to denote something we were collectively at peace with, something we could live with. Just a thought.
-Nathaniel Rayle, Virginia (rayle.nathaniel pbgc.gov)

I am continuing to try to learn German and I see occasional possibilities in word origins. For example, with copacetic, if you were to use the German “Opas Ethik” meaning “grandfather’s ethics”, one could possibly imagine that this was a Yiddish phrase. It would be pronounced as copacetic without the leading c.
-Alan Ertle, Sacramento, California (medinfoco aol.com)

I was surprised that the writers today did not mention the theory that “copacetic” came from Chinook jargon of the Pacific Northwest. I grew up in Washington state, and the word is used a lot in my family (although we are not Native Americans); it was my father who told me that it came from a Chinook word (he grew up there, as did his parents and grandparents). Since my early years in Washington, I’ve lived in many other places (the UK, France, New Mexico, Colorado), and my sense is that “copacetic” does not seem to be used with as much frequency as it is in the Pacific Northwest.
-Erin Knox, Tucson, Arizona (ekknox gmail.com)

Not sure about the origin, but the term was made popular by the tap dancer/performer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.
-Emily Baldwin, New York, New York (ebfinishingthehat gmail.com)


The story I have is that there was a brewery just down from Billingsgate Fish Market in London that used to use water (at times) from runoff from the market. Such water would have an amount of fish offal, scales, and other nutritional detritus that would add hugely to the S.G. or potency (alcoholic content) of the beer. Drinking that beer would get the drinker drunker, faster than usual - so he “benefited” from the cod’s wallop.
Just to prove that this isn’t codswallop -- most beers (e.g. Guinness, until very recently) contained fish scales to act as finings.
-Peter O’Connor, Waterford, Ireland (pfiddle gmail.com)

I always thought (although I have no evidence to prove it) that codswallop was a variation on cow’s dung.
-David Goldsmith, Montreal, Canada (david goldsmith.ca)

It’s hard to believe that H.L. Mencken did NOT coin the term codswallop. It sounds so like him, but I haven’t found evidence for that (yet).
-Prof Richard Kaplan, Farnborough, UK (r.kaplan ucl.ac.uk)

I’m more inclined that it evolved from some obscure reference to being walloped in the cods.
-Rick Rutledge, Winston-Salem, North Carolina (rick rickrutledge.com)

I thought everybody knew that in order to open a bottle of Codd’s beer (with the marble in the neck) you needed to wallop it upside down on the table to dislodge the marble. And, what goes down in the pub is nonsense, and might as well be codswallop.
-Rod Tritton, Cape Town, South Africa (rod thetreedoctor.co.za)

In the days of the dory fishermen (think “Captains Courageous”), when the cod were handlined aboard the dory, the sudden change in pressure would cause the fish to disgorge everything they had eaten recently. In a few minutes of fishing, the boat would be awash in a noisome mess of disgorged krill and other such. The fishermen called it “cod swallow” which morphed into “codswallop”.
-Charles Aylworth, Salem, Oregon (caylworth gmail.com)

Codswallop = a Monty Python skit where Palin and Cleese are engaged in the martial art of fish slapping and it was hilarious!
-Marge Simon, Ocala, Florida (msimon6206 aol.com)


The term lollygag was originally used to describe the act of French kissing.
-Bob Myerly, Los Angeles, California (bobmyerly att.net)

“Lollygag” brings to mind the image of one closely focused on the lollypop in hand to the exclusion of anything else. In Britain, it’s simply a “lolly”, BTW. In the extreme, one might enjoy one’s lolly to the point of gagging on it.
-Timothy O’Dell, Corinth, Vermont (todell6 Juno.com)

From: Allen Thomson (thomsona flash.net)
Subject: Copacetic, synchronicity

Well, this is weird. Yesterday we drove from Panama City to El Valle de Antión and on the way went through a microtown called Copecito (8.514 N, 80.036 W). I idly thought that it sounded like copacetic and lo, this morning’s WOTD is copacetic. Jungian synchronicity at its finest!

Allen Thomson, San Antonio, Texas

From: Jerry Kaufman (j.cowfm gmail.com)
Subject: Copacetic

I knew a number of people when I was young who used this word. Often it was in the form of a short, even one word question. There was also a response by inverting the word:

A: Copacetic?
B: Ceticope.

Translation: “You OK?” “Yup.” Mostly interacted with older African Americans when using this word.

Jerry Kaufman, Monroe Township, New Jersey

From: Hugh Hyatt (hugh.hyatt gmail.com)
Subject: Anais Nin quotation

And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. -Anais Nin, writer (21 Feb 1903-1977)

The actual, correct quotation is, “And the day came when the risk to remain closed in a bud became more painful than the risk it took to blossom,” and, should be attributed to Elizabeth Appell.

Hugh D. Hyatt, Upper Holland, Pennsylvania

We’ve updated it on the website. Thank you.
-Anu Garg

From: Norma Meyer (nsophm gmail.com)
Subject: Karol Buntsch

Roads endure longer than pyramids. -Karol Bunsch, novelist (22 Feb 1898-1987)

Karol Buntsch obviously doesn’t live in St. Clair County, MI

Norma Meyer, East China, Michigan

Email of the Week: Prepped to you by THE OLD’S COOL TOUR -- Valor. Virtue. Vision.

From: Richard Alexander (alexander triton.net)
Subject: lollygag

For me, and probably for thousands (millions?) of others, “lollygag” shall forever be associated with the movie Bull Durham. The team’s manager (“Skip”) was played by the wonderful character actor Trey Wilson, who died seven months after the movie was released, five days shy of his 41st birthday.

Skip: You guys. You lollygag the ball around the infield. You lollygag your way down to first. You lollygag in and out of the dugout. You know what that makes you? Larry!
Larry: Lollygaggers.
Skip: Lollygaggers.
(video, 17 sec.)

Richard Alexander, Grand Rapids, Michigan

From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: kibosh & codswallop

kibosh codswallop
Illustrations: Alex McCrae
Sir Conan Doyle’s intrepid, much-beloved super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes never met a case he didn’t relish... and ultimately solve. But this cryptic “kibosh” message clearly has him momentarily flummoxed, with his trusted partner, an equally perplexed Watson, offering little consolation.

After roughly a month in office, Trump has often managed to play fast-and-loose with the truth; what his slippery, sycophantic senior advisor Kellyanne Conway has now euphemistically parsed as “alternative facts”. Some might be a tad less generous than advisor Conway’s assessment in this regard, deeming much of Trump’s S-T-R-E-T-C-H-E-D, farfetched pronouncements as just plain Grade-”A”-prime codswallop.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Anagrams of this week’s words

1. kibosh
2. copacetic
3. rambunctious
4. codswallop
5. lollygag
= 1. stop
2. okay, cool
3. so wild, not calm (cub)
4. big lie, such crap
5. lag
= 1. block
2. good
3. “I can crash to a wall!”
4. bull, gossip
5. occupy time
    -Dharam Khalsa, Burlington, North Carolina (dharamkk2 gmail.com)   -Josiah Winslow, West Allis, Wisconsin (josiah12301 yahoo.com)

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Limericks

Six beers. He appears pretty sloshed.
Although this has put the kibosh
on whatever plans
she’d made with the man,
she moves right along, cries “Pish-tosh!”
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

“If on Jesus you put the kibosh,”
Lectured Pilate, “my hands l will wash.
But if out of that cave your
Messiah and Savior
Arises, I’d call that panache.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

If you’re feeling not quite up to par
And your figure you’d wish not to mar,
Time to put the kibosh on
The junk that you nosh on.
Treat your bod’ as a temple, not a bar!
-Joel Holtz, Rancho Palos Verdes, California (planetholtz cox.net)

There once was a leader pathetic
Who swore, “All’s copacetic.”
But wiser folks knew
It wasn’t true,
Their protest was most energetic.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

If based on attraction magnetic,
Relationships turn apathetic.
We all dream of lust
But you have to have trust
For a marriage to be copacetic.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

On the flute John was quite copacetic
With talent most likely genetic.
His Pa played the tuba,
While down in Aruba
His Ma on steel drums was frenetic.
-Janice Power, Cleveland, Ohio (jpower wowway.com)

It upset her when he was rambunctious.
She would scold him and then feel compunctious,
for of course she could see -
since he was only three -
he was better rambunctious than unctuous.
-Zelda Dvoretzky, Haifa, Israel (zeldahaifa gmail.com)

“You Kennedy boys are rambunctious!”
Squealed Marilyn, looking quite scrumptious.
“With Arthur I’m done
And Joe wasn’t the one.
Here I am, if you’re not too compunctious.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

He thought his date was God’s trollop,
And fed her a deal of codswallop,
Then took her to dine,
At restaurant fine,
Where each bite proved an odd dollop.
-Chris Papa, Colts Neck, New Jersey (doxite verizon.net)

I’ve fallen in love with fake news.
I can believe what codswallop I choose.
I scan websites that fit
With just where I sit,
Anti vax! Climate sceptics! Enthuse!
-Kathy Deutsch, Melbourne, Australia (kathy deutsch.net.au)

Denouncing the news as codswallop,
Said Trump, “It’s all fake. Stupid gossip.
When on women I pee
My friend Vlad says, “It’s free!”
I have never once paid for a trollop.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Said Gretel to Hansel, “Don’t lollygag,
For around here there’s some kind of dotty hag.
I don’t like to grouse
But that gingerbread house
Could be bait for the witch to our bodies snag.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

The professor, a bit of a drag,
Gave lectures that made students gag.
He waxed painfully rhetorical
On boring facts, historical,
Which labeled him “The Old Lollygag”.
-Judith Marks-White, Westport, Connecticut (joodthmw gmail.com)

On your rat problems, you’ll put a kibosh
When you dispense with the codswallop and hogwash
That your lollygagging little cats
Fear very rambunctious rats,
And all will be back to copacetic.
-Milan Schonberger, Los Angeles, California (milan.schonberger sbcglobal.net)

From: Phil Graham (pgraham1946 cox.net)
Subject: Origins punknown

Having watched golfer Laffoon make triple-bogey, the drunk said, “Didja see Kybosh that hole?”

The novitiates were warned, “If you can’t cope ascetic lifestyles aren’t for you.”

Reading an article on male superiority, the ewe said, “This rambunctious makes me sick!”

Riding bareback makes my codswallop.

Lolita drank some castor oil. It made lollygag.

Phil Graham, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Men hate those to whom they have to lie. -Victor Hugo, poet, novelist, and dramatist (26 Feb 1802-1885)

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