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Pronounced /ɪʃkəˈbɪb(ə)l/Help with pronunciation

This dismissive slang expression came into existence in the USA quite suddenly around 1913 with the ostensible meaning “I should worry!”, which means, of course, “Don’t worry!” or “Who cares?”. It had quite a vogue for a decade or two and was the name of a character played by Merwyn Bogue on a 1930s radio show called Kay Kyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge (they don’t make titles like that any more).

Those of us who sift the detritus of language for fun and profit are intrigued by it. It looks and sounds Yiddish and the phrases nish gefidlt, nicht gefiedelt, and ich gebliebte have all been suggested as sources. The idea of a Jewish connection was reinforced in 1914 when Harry Hershfield began his cartoon strip Abie the Agent in Hearst newspapers, which featured the car salesman Abraham (“Abie”) Kabibble.

Many people at the time certainly thought it was Yiddish, and it’s notable that some Anglicised it to “I should bibble” or “we should bibble”. But it was equally firmly said by contemporaries that no Yiddish connection existed at all. And the slang term bibble is recorded a few years earlier, albeit with the meaning of nonsense talk. It’s a shortened form of bibble-babble, a reduplication of babble, which goes right back to the sixteenth century and turns up in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: “Endeavour thy selfe to sleepe, and leave thy vain bibble babble.”

Might ish-ge-bibble — as it was often written in the early days — have been a fake Yiddishism? It could have been based on German ich for I (often said by natives as ish), the ge prefix for the past participles of German verbs, plus bibble.

In his autobiography, Merwyn Bogue said that he took his stage name from a song he used to sing on the radio show, Isch Gabibble (I Should Worry), words by Sam M Lewis, music by George W Meyer, dated 1913. Bogue said he changed the spelling to make it easier to say. This song seems to have been the immediate source for the sudden arrival and popularity of the term. But did George W Meyer invent it or borrow it in his turn? It would be nice to know.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 27 Aug. 2005

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-ish1.htm
Last modified: 27 August 2005.