Discuss word origins and meanings.
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Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Dec 18, 2017 8:33 pm

<2017 “If Democrats don’t like these provisions {in the GOP tax bill} . . . they should have negotiated with Republicans in exchange for their votes. Instead, the stubbornly sat this one out and ‘got bupkus.'">
When I was a lad I asked my grandfather (born 1888) and a native Yiddish speaker, what “bupkus” meant, since I had heard it used often in our family, liked the sound of it, and didn’t think it was an English word. My grandfather was very hard of hearing and this was before the days of modern hearing aids. His answer yelled out was “goat shit.” And there you have it, the literal meaning of bupkus (also see below).

Bupkus doesn’t appear in most standard dictionaries, for it is of fairly modern vintage in the U.S. and was slow to catch on. It does, however, appear in Dictionary.com, Merriam-Webster.com, and The Oxford English Dictionary (see below).


Slang definitions & phrases for bubkes


Absurdly little : <That it sold bubkes may say just as much for his laziness and his hubris.>

Something trivial; nothing; beans: <We've gone from bubkes to big deals in a year.> <They've waved bye-bye to the likes of Julius Irving and gotten bubkes in return.> < paying bupkes for rent>
[1940s+; from Yiddish, ''goat dung,'' (grandpa was right!) from Russian, ''beans'']


bubkes/bubkus noun

1) The least amount : beans <won’t win bubkes this year>

2) Nothing <received bubkes for their efforts>

Etymology: Yiddish (probably short for kozebubkes, literally, goat droppings), plural of bubke, bobke, diminutive of bub, bob bean, of Slavic origin; akin to Polish bób bean.
First known use 1937.

There are many different spellings for this word, which you may have noticed above, and I will include below those provided by the OED.

Oxford English Dictionary

Spellings: bobkes, bobkis, bopkes, bopkus, bubkes, bubkess, bubkis, bubkiss, bupkes, bubkis, bupkiss, bupkus

North American slang (originally in Jewish usage).

bupkis noun: Absolutely nothing, nil.

Etymology: Yiddish bobkes nonsense, rubbish, nothing, of uncertain origin.

The following quotes are from the Oxford English Dictionary and archived sources:
<1937 “The Wall Street goyim [[non-Jews]] like 'em skinny . . . Do you know what you'll get for dinner?.. A green pea with some bees'-knees a la bupkis hiding underneath it.”—Imperial City by E. L. Rice, page 67>

<1942 “The best you can get there is a chance to work Saturday night at a ruptured saloon for bupkis.”—Telephone Booth Indian by A. J. Liebling, page 60>

<1974 “She comes in, I give her twenty off automatically. I'd like to see her get that discount at Eaton's. Bupkes Eaton's'll give her off.”—Good Place to Come From by M.Torgov, page 147>

<1987 “Forget the ring. The ring is bupkis.”—Spaceballs by J.B. Stine, xxi. Page 109>

<2003 “Or take Pepsi, which bought Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken to ensure sales in the restaurant market until it realized that it knew bobkes about running restaurants.”—Washington Post (D.C.), 16 July>

<2005 “Well, after a month on Airtroductions.com, the Web site that promises to hook up air travelers with suitable mates in the next seat, I got bupkus.”—The Washington Post (D.C.), 23 October>

<2006 “We came up with bubkes.”—New Yorker (New York City), 16 January, page 34/1>

<2012 “The USOC probably cares a whole lot more about what Ralph Lauren says than what Harry Reid says, and the reason is simple. Ralph Lauren gives it money and clothes. Congress gives it bupkis.”—The Christian Science Monitor, 13 July>

<2015 “So what did Shelly get for his big bet in 2012? Bupkis, as they say in Las Vegas when you've rolled a line of snake eyes.”—The Boston Globe (Massachusetts), 10 February>

<2017 “Meanwhile, ‘we do have many instances in public evidence where these know-your-customer laws did precisely bupkis in preventing flow of resources . . .’”—American Banker (New York City), 16 May>

In summary I would say that bupkus simply means “little or nothing” and you can’t always tell from the context which it is.

Ken Greenwald — December 18, 2017

Re: bupkus/bubkis/bubkes

Post by trolley » Mon Dec 18, 2017 11:30 pm

Ken, it’s interesting to note that, in English (North American English, at least) the word “shit” can be used in the same way as “bupkis”
“He doesn’t know shit”
“That’s not worth shit”
You could also substitute the word “beans” in either of those sentences but I don’t think there is any connection in English between beans and shit…well I guess there is but that’s another discussion. The Yiddish word may have a connection, though. I can’t remember where, but I read that the “bean” definition of “bupkis” actually refers to goat droppings because of their similar appearance. I don’t think I’ve ever seen goat poop but we have plenty of deer and rabbits and if it’s similar to those pellets that theory could be more than just a hill of beans.

Re: bupkus/bubkis/bubkes

Post by Erik_Kowal » Tue Dec 19, 2017 2:27 am

Here's a photo of some goat droppings for your viewing pleasure:


Re: bupkus/bubkis/bubkes

Post by Bobinwales » Tue Dec 19, 2017 11:36 am

Another word that never learned to swim the Pond.
And given Erik's very thoughtful picture, I am very pleased that it hasn't.
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Re: bupkus/bubkis/bubkes

Post by Phil White » Fri Dec 22, 2017 6:29 pm

For my part, I shall adopt it immediately, nurture it and ensure that it thrives on this side of the pond. Excellent word to add to the arsenal.
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

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