George Paul dropped a line today with a request for information on a word that has stumped us completely. Maybe someone reading this has encountered it. I rather doubt that since I think my response is probably correct. Here is what George asked:
“For decades, my Italian-American family has used the word ‘cashabung’ to describe something that is worthless, good-for-nothing, no-account, no-good, manky, rubbishy, trashy, etc. I can’t find any reference to that word. Can you help?”
Here is the response:
George, you have stumped us. We’ve never encountered it and it doesn’t even occur on the Web, according to Google. The Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t have anything bearing even the slightest resemblance to it.
My best guess would be this. In addition to dialects, language is also marked by idiolects. An idiolect is the dialect of a family or even an individual. You have probably heard one person and only one person use a word or a word that is used only in one family. I suspect cashabung is from an idiolect, probably a blend of two words from an Italian dialect or simply an Italian word slightly mispronounced (you don’t find the combination NG at the end of many Italian words).
The only word that comes to my mind is cowabunga, an exclamation of surprise introduced in the ‘Howdy Doody Show’ back in the 1950s. I notice that it still survives in the Internet community with a variety of meanings. None of them, however, approaches the sense of cashabung that you mention.