Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"bumpkiss" is bubkes

This is my first entry into the field of linguistic research! I was reading a Yiddish glossary the other day. I wanted to see if "meshuginah" was really a Yiddish word or just something that Stephan Pastis had made up. (Turns out it is a real word and it means "a crazy person.") I ran across an entry for "babkes," meaning "nothing; beans." In a moment of immediate inspiration, I thought, "Yes, like 'bumpkiss.'" And, then, I realized these words must be related. I set off on researching "babkes".

First thing I found is that it's spelled in many different ways. Brace yourself. From three sources, I found 7 different spellings:
  1. babkes *
  2. bupkis *
  3. bupkes
  4. bobkes
  5. bubkes *
  6. bopkes
  7. bupkus
The first was from the Yiddish glossary, the next 5 came from Wikitionary (which prefers "bupkis") and the last one was added by Merriam-Webster On-line (which, nevertheless, preferred "bubkes"!).

Well, believe me, I stopped digging right there. I don't want to know any more ways to spell this bloody word! Ongapatchka.

So, I went to Wikipedia and looked into word formation. After a bit of reading, I've concluded that this is a case of phonetic matching. The original "bubkes" is awkward to the English tongue and just morphed into the compound of familiar matching words "bump" and "kiss". I might also theorize that the word "bumpkin" influenced the evolution by making the "-ump-ki-" combination familiar.

I don't know what constitutes proof in the world of etymology. I have found an intermediate form: "bupkiss" and I feel very confident in my basic explanation. (Any further research on my own part would no longer be fun. And, I'm getting paid bumpkiss to do this.)

I've used "bumpkiss" for years and never had any idea. A web search will show I'm not the only one. Still, being a linguistic reactionary, I'm now going to try to start using the original, Yiddish word. I'm thinking "bubkes". (If you're going retro', you might as well distinguish yourself from the neologism and lose the 'p'.)

Nevertheless, I'm believe that "bumpkiss" is here to stay and I call on everyone to add it to their dictionary.