Kibitz.

Stan Carey has a post on one of the most successful Yiddish exports to English, kibitz:

Kibitz is a handy word that means to watch someone do something (normally a game, often cards) and offer unwelcome advice. It can also simply mean to chat or joke around. The word entered English almost a century ago via multiple languages, thieves’ cant, and ornithological onomatopoeia. This delightful etymology is summarised at Etymonline:

1927, from Yiddish kibitsen “to offer gratuitous advice as an outsider,” from German kiebitzen “to look on at cards, to kibitz,” originally in thieves’ cant “to visit,” from Kiebitz, name of a shore bird (European pewit, lapwing) with a folk reputation as a meddler, from Middle High German gibitz “pewit,” imitative of its cry.

That is indeed delightful, so I thought I’d share it. I’ll also add the final sentence, which Stan inexplicably omitted: “Young lapwings are proverbially precocious and active, and were said to run around with half-shells still on their heads soon after hatching.”

Comments

  1. La Horde Listener says:

    Stan most likely omitted the last sentence to stay on topic and prevent the issue’s comments from devolving into a cute ways of baby animals discussion. “B-B-Baby lapwing chicks, running around with wittle eggshell caps? Aww!” “Pweshus!” “Did it construct a smeuse?” “Well! My little terrier, Custenin the Blessed, did the cutest thing the other day…” trilling and cooing.

  2. ‘the final sentence, which Stan inexplicably omitted’

    In retrospect, I don’t understand my decision either.

  3. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    In Polish the verb “kibicować” means ‘to root for’. “Kibic” is a sports fan who goes to watch the games. A later derivative from the latter is “kibol”, a pejorative designation of a hooligan, always connected to the sports fans’ milieu (generally a violent football kibic). Didn’t it came via Yiddish, though — my dictionary tells me only about the bird name thing.

  4. Stan most likely omitted the last sentence to stay on topic

    Fortunately, that’s not a concern here at the Hattery.

  5. “…from German kiebitzen “to look on at cards, to kibitz,”

    How did they decide it came into English specifically from Yiddish rather than German?

  6. Wow, I always assumed it came to Yiddish from Hebrew. Maybe from kibbetz – to bring together…

  7. “Young lapwings . . . were said” to do this not least by Shakespeare. Horatio to Hamlet, as Osric exits (V.ii): “This lapwing runs away with the shell on his head”.

  8. In his entry for kiebitzen, Kluge (via Davis, 1891) says see Kibitz. Under Kibitz appears lapwing. That’s it.

    Wichmann (English-German-English, 1939) gives only lapwing, peewit, (green) plover for Kiebitz and has no entry for kibitz.

    Oxford Duden (1990) has Kiebitz a) lapwing, peewit; b) (ugs.Zuschauer beim Spiel) Kibitzer (coll.).

    Zuschauer beim Spiel translates to English ‘spectator/onlooker to game.’

    Harkavy (English-YIddish-English, 1900) has no entry for the word.

    Harkavy (1925) has קיבעץ kibitz: sarcastic remark. Plus קיבעצן kibitzen: to rail, banter, make fun; and קיבעצער kibitzer: railer, banterer. All entries are marked “(Am.)”. A footnote adds:
    פון דייטש, א דאקוטשליווער צוקוקער ביי א קארטנשפיל (איינגטליך א געוויסער פויגל, וואס האט א טבע צו מאכן זיך פאר א בעל-בית אין א פרעמדן נעסט). די יידישע באדייטונג, זעט אויס, קומט דערפון, וואס ציקוקער ביי א שפיל מאכן זיך אפט לוסטיג אויף דעם חשבון פון די שפילער.

    Which means, approximately (i.e., Google ‘n’ me): From German, a dakutschliever (?) spectator at a card game (actually a certain bird, which has a nature to make itself the owner of a foreign nest). The Jewish significance, sees the outcomes, that the spectator at a game can often make the calculation of the players.

    Leo Rosten, in Hooray for Yiddish (1982) writes in his entry for ‘kibitzer:’ From German: kiebitz: looking over the shoulder at someone playing cards. He adds: “I should think that by now no one needs to have kibitzer illustrated. The Kibitzer, a play by Jo Swerling (1920), made the word a byword.” Wiki says the play was co-written with Edward G. Robinson.

    I’ve known the word forever (well, since the Pleistocene anyway), but only recall hearing and using it in the sense of someone making wisecracks or perhaps mildly needling. I’m aware of the onlooker bit, but this use is foreign to my experience.

  9. That word דאקוטשליווער gets precisely one Google hit, and it’s to the footnote in Harkavy’s dictionary. A search for that word in the dictionary brings up דאקוטשליווע (minus the final r), which it defines as ‘troublesome, annoying.” Nothing resembling that in Oxford Duden.

    So kibitzer then, per Harkavy, means “an annoying onlooker at a card game . . .”

  10. Heh. My Yiddish is minimal, but I can explain that one; it’s clearly a Yiddishized form of Russian докучливый [dokúčlivyy] ‘tiresome, annoying.’

  11. In the world of bridge players, there are (or maybe there was) 3 categories of onlookers: kibitzers, dorzbitzers, and tzitzers. Here’s a typical explanation from a footnote in H. L. Mencken’s “American Language”

    Ely Culbertson reported two variations of kibitzerdorbitzer, signifying “one who has asked permission of the kibitzers to join them,” and tsitser, meaning “one who has asked permission of no one” and whose rights “are restricted to hovering in the background and expressing himself by Ts! ts! ts!

    It is preceded by a rather fanciful etymology of the word kibitzer itself (I am too lazy to type it here). But where dorbitzer came from?

  12. Heh. My Yiddish is minimal, but I can explain that one; it’s clearly a Yiddishized form of Russian докучливый [dokúčlivyy] ‘tiresome, annoying.’

    Love it! My Russian is essentially non-existent (maybe 200 words — many from Yiddish — and very slow reading of stuff I generally don’t understand), but I was able to locate докучливый in my little Collins Gem Russian-English-Russian dictionary.

    Some years ago I bought, for the princely sum of $10, a 1980-ish Russian-Yiddish dictionary published in Moscow. It resides with a Russian-speaking friend, on permanent loan because his wife refused to let him acquire something the size of a hefty phone book and of such limited use.

    I haven’t found that dictionary on the web, but in 2013 the Yiddish edition of the Forward published an article about a new Russian-Yiddish dictionary.

  13. Some years ago I bought, for the princely sum of $10, a 1980-ish Russian-Yiddish dictionary published in Moscow.

    A decade or two ago I bought a Khmer-Russian dictionary, also the size of a hefty phone book, and for the most part, as you might expect, it sits on the bottom shelf of my language bookcase gathering dust. But just yesterday I wanted to look up a Khmer word (I was reading about Cambodia) and was very glad I had it. (See yesterday’s post about the need to have as many books as possible, and then some.)

  14. In chess, it’s very common for players to watch other peoples’ games. For any kind of serious game, everyone knows not to say anything about the game where the participants can hear. (And many players will not talk about an ongoing game at all, even away from the players). “Kibitzing” means no just watching a casual game but talking about it or making noises; whether it’s permitted depends on just how casual the game is and the attitudes of the players.

  15. In bridge, kibitzing means sitting in on a game to watch it, i.e. drawing up a chair right behind the players. In serious tournaments you can do this only with the permission of the players and you mustn’t make a peep. In less serious club games, especially if you know the players, it’s OK to make occasional bad jokes or sarcastic remarks.

    If you’re watching a game by video in another room it’s not kibitzing, just watching.

  16. well, since the Pleistocene anyway

    Mario Alinei will be glad to hear that.

  17. I’d only ever heard the Hebrew folk etymology, which seemed unsatisfying, but I didn’t look any further. Nice to know the real answer. Incidentally, while dokutshlev in Yiddish is rare, the related, slightly Germanicized verb “derkutshn” (to pester) is not. This development probably first took place in a Polish Yiddish dialect, where the prefix der- is often pronounced “do-.”

  18. Alinei was born in 1926. What does he know?

  19. I found more information on that recently published Russian-Yiddish dictionary. Its compiler is one Dmitry Tishchenko, and his family hails from Grodno, today in Belarus. Serendipitously, Grodno is the birthplace of the friend to whom I gave the hefty Russian-Yiddish dictionary I mentioned earlier and about 100 km from my father’s birthplace. The article I’ve linked to here says that Tischenko’s dictionary is Ukrainian-Yiddish. It’s not very well written, and I suspect it’s an iffy translation from Ukrainian. Two hints: The city of his ancestors is called Hrodno, and the website’s top-level domain is .ua.

  20. The English side of Narod Knigi has a short summary of a Russian-language article appearing in Issue 104 that examines the current state of Yiddish dictionaries:

    Over the last five years, four new dictionaries aimed at readers of Slavic languages have replenished Yiddish lexicography. Alexander Astraukh’s Yiddish-Belarusian Dictionary was published in 2008. Three comprehensive Yiddish-Russian dictionaries, compiled by Alexander Soldatov, Boris Vainblat, and Dmitry Tischenko, respectively, appeared between 2011 and 2013. This “lexicographical boom” has been the result of the late- and post-Soviet revival of Jewish philology. This survey analyzes all the Yiddish‑Russian, Yiddish-Ukrainian, and Yiddish-Belarusian dictionaries published worldwide since the 1980s, with a special critical focus on the latest contributions.

    The full article is accessible on the Russian side of the site.

  21. David Marjanović says:

    Harkavy (1925) has קיבעץ kibitz: sarcastic remark. Plus קיבעצן kibitzen: to rail, banter, make fun; and קיבעצער kibitzer: railer, banterer. All entries are marked “(Am.)”. A footnote adds:

    …That is surprisingly easy to read. 😮

    I didn’t in fact know that many Hebrew letters; I’m surprised I can guess so many from context.

  22. I didn’t in fact know that many Hebrew letters; I’m surprised I can guess so many from context.

    חתול

  23. David Marjanović says:

    …What does a cat have to do with…? ~:-|

  24. A day or so ago on another thread you said that cats are David persons.

  25. A dibitzer, I belatedly remember, is ‘one who kibitzes the kibitzer’, by loudly disagreeing with his assertions about the game in progress. This is probably a mixture of the dorbitzer above (a word I did not know) with di- ‘two’. If I didn’t know this word, I would probably say meta-kibitzer. Doubtless the word for ‘meta-meta-kibitzer’ is tribitzer.

Trackbacks

  1. […] More discussion of the history and use of kibitz at Language Hat. And I read another example in Lawrence Block’s The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza this week; […]

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