Printable Version
Pronunciation: bêp-kês Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)

Meaning: (Slang) Absolutely nothing, diddly, squat, zip, zilch, nada.

Notes: Today's Good Word is another kindly donation from Yiddish heard mostly in the northern tier and western slab of the US. Since this is a slang word, spoken more than written, the spelling hovers around bupkiss, bupkes, bupkus, and bupkis or even bubkis. Bupkis seems to be the most widely used currently. This word is a lexical orphan, not even a bupkisness to parallel nothingness. It is just there, all but lost among the host of other slang alternatives to nothing.

In Play: We still hear this word more frequently in the Jewish community: "After pulling the company back from the brink of bankruptcy I didn't get diddly for my effort and my Jewish friend got bupkis." However, it has long since entered the general vocabulary: "Hadley is the greatest asset of the investment firm, but he isn't worth bupkis around the house."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from rather smelly origins. Its ultimate source is the Russian word bobok "bean". However, the sense of it that reached English is a reduction of the Yiddish word kozebupkes "goat pellets, droppings". This word, in turn, is a compound comprising the Russian words koza "goat" + bobki "little beans". The root koz- survives in the Slavic languages, where it did render up kozha "skin, hide", originally referring only to goat skin. Bob "bean" shares its origin with Latin faba "bean", which became Italian fava of fava bean fame after years of phonetic grinding. (Today we thank Rodger Collins for suggesting a word whose origin gets everyone's goat.)

Dr. Goodword,

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