Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Ish Kabibble

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 9, 2014

Ish Kabibble.  It’s an expression that’s used to answer serious questions that has its roots in the Yiddish phrase nisht gefidlt that translates into English as it doesn’t matter to me.

The name is found in the song by George W. Meyer and Sam Lewis titled, “Ishkabibble (I Should Worry)” published in 1913.  The following year, Harry Hershfield‘s cartoon strip Abie The Agent was syndicated in the Hearst newspapers and feature a car salesman by the name of Abraham “Abie” Kabibble.  The year after that, it showed up as Ish Ga Bibble  and Ish Ka Bibble on postcards.

Ish Ka Bibble

Ish Kabbible was a real person — sort of — whose real name was Merwyn Alton Bogue (January 19, 1908 – June 5, 1993).  He was born in North East, Pennsylvania and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania.  He studied law at West Virginia University, but is far better known for his comic antics as a cornet player with the Kay Kyser Orchestra from 1931 through to 1951.  He was also the orchestra’s business manager.  In the 1930s, Kay Kyser had a radio show called Kay Kyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge, and Merwyn played a character by the name of Ish Kabibble. The name stuck.

The Kalamazoo Normal Record, published monthly by the Faculty and Students of the Western State Normal School in Kalamazoo, Michigan, reprinted a poem for their May 1916 edition.  The poem was copied from another weekly paper named “The Searchlight” published by the students of the Junior High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  In the poem title, “English As She Is Spoke” the following stanza is found.

And should you read a mild reproof
Beneath the poet’s scribble,
I hear you say, “Go chase yourself!”
“Forget it!” “Ish-ka-bibble!”

That same month, on May 27, 1916 the newspaper “The Standard: A Weekly Insurance Newspaper” printed the address of Mr. Cunningham to fire insurers in which he speaks of the “Ish Ka Bibble” hazard.  In fact, he begins using the idiom at this point in his address.

I wish that the tenure of office of these state officials was less subject to political caprice, and I have sometimes been so unpatriotic as to regret that we have so many states.

Much more might be said to show that the present generation of fire which can best be described in the vernacular as the “Ish-Ka-Bibble” hazard — popularly translated — “I should worry.”

In the December 29, 1914 edition of the Stark County News in Lafayette, the following was reported:

Thursday afternoon, December 17, Mrs. E.G. Eltzroth entertained the ladies of the Ish Ka Bibble Club. Owing to bad weather there were only a few present. Iona Maginn served the dainty two-course luncheon. We were reminded of the approaching Christmastide by favors of holly, dainty place cards, and the proverbial Christmas pie which contained a gift for each guest.

In fact, the expression is found in an article in  February 1914 published in “The Bank Man” which was a monthly publication for the Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Banking.  In the short article by Thomas E. Doonan titled, “First National Bank Of Englewood” the writer gave a quick update on various employee activities.  One had just returned from a vacation at the beach in Jackson Park, while another had just left for a week’s vacation out East.  One had left the employ of the bank for greener pastures in other fields, and yet another was back at his old job in the Collection Department.  The last comment was this:

Whenever Margaret is out in the checking bunch, all that she says is, “Ishkabibble.  Eckel is around.  He will find it, so why should we worry?”

Shortly before that, in “The Florists’ Review” published on January 29, 1914 the following news bite can be found on page 114.

Wm. Salman, the eminent Race Street flower seller, recently capture the robber who broke the show window of the jewelry store on Race Street.  He sits back with an “Ishkabibble” air while others are fighting for the reward.

The idiom in this form doesn’t seem to appear in earlier published forms — either books or newspapers — however since it was a recognized slang term in 1913, it is reasonable to believe that this expression comes from the turn of the century.

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