Our Lord is a Shoving Leopard

A malapropism so good that I can’t not pass it along.

A colleague emailed me and a group of co-authors critiquing our draft paper. Each time he noted a minor error or slight miscalculation, he would preface his comments with apologetic phrases such as:

“I really don’t want to kibbutz, but…”
“I hate to kibbutz, but…”
“Far be it from me to kibbutz, but…”

I wrote back “Why is this such an issue for you, when you are a Roman Catholic living in Dallas?”.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

16 thoughts on “Our Lord is a Shoving Leopard”

  1. You can understand that a Texan might feel the need to denounce Socialism at every opportunity.

  2. My Dad (an agnostic from Pennsylvania) was the first person I heard use the word. He pronounced it “kibitz” with the emphasis on the first syllable.
    I always thought it was a common exprssion in his mining town home. A quick google indicates the word seems to go back only a century or so. Does the tradition have a longer lineage?

    1. Just to reiterate the obvious, “kibitz” and “kibbutz” are different words….

    2. It’s Yiddish, so I’m sure it goes back a long time in Yiddish; about a century in English sounds right, since that’s when the major immigration of Yiddish-speakers (my great-grandfather among them) happened.

    3. My parents (Protestants from Pennsylvania, a family with many miners) used it in card games, e.g., no kibitizing! (a way of saying no “table talk” by observers or signals between people on the same bridge team). Yiddish in origin, but clearly not equivalent to a kibbutz.

      1. A kibitzer is an observer, often of a card game, but definitely not a participant in the game. That’s yet another error by your friend in Texas. Kibitzers are traditionally sharply critical of the players and there are those who much prefer kibitzing to playing, at least in bridge. Much less demanding.

        The classical kibitzer joke tells of three men playing cards as a kibitzer looks on and ridicules every play. Finally, when the kibitzer goes to the bathroom one of the players announces that the only way to shut him up is to make up a game on the spot.

        The kibitzer returns and the dealer takes the deck, tears the top two cards in half and gives half of each to the other players. Then he deals himself five cards, gives one opponent three, and the other four. He puts the rest of the deck in the middle, turning over three cards.

        Then he says: “I’ll bet a dollar. I’ve got a farfel.”
        The next guy raises, saying, “I’ve got a kugel.”
        The third guy calls: “I’ve got a bintel.”

        The kibitzer breaks in: “Are you nuts? With a lousy bintel you’ll never beat a farfel and a kugel.”

      2. All of these comment are lots of fun.

        I always thought my Dad’s “Kibitz” was a bastardized slang from “Kibbutz” because people in a collective would be inclined to be in each others’ business whether the advice was asked for or not.

        Someone down the line mentioned a possible German origin. My Dad was of German descent so that sounds right.

  3. A little googling reveals that “kibitz” is a Yiddish verb of German origin and is from a word meaning lapwing, a shore bird with a shrill cry. (Yiddish is a descendant of medieval German that is written in Hebrew letters.) To kibitz is to give annoying, unwanted advice or commentary, as from a spectator at a card or chess game.

    Some sites say that there is a German slang word “kiebitzen” with the same meaning. Perhaps (see Anomalous and Keith Humphreys) the word came into English not only from Yiddish but also directly from German immigrants. Pennsylvania had a lot of German immigration.

    “Kibbutz” is a modern Hebrew word – it’s a noun based on an existing Hebrew verb meaning to gather. An idiomatic translation would be a “collective.”

  4. Anyone who has played bridge knows the word. But who would use it, even correctly, several times in the editing of a paper?

    1. That would depend on who was doing the review, the purpose of the review, and how well the author(s) and reviewer know each other. Keith’s description sounds like a paper that has just reached the stage the author is willing to let others look at it. Many of us send papers at that stage to our friends for comment and critique.

      I know my field better than others, obviously. A mentor of mine once said (with regard to the refereeing process in the field), “We are worse than Democrats about eating our young.” It’s not uncommon (and always disheartening) to have a vicious, completely unhelpful referee’s report in your in-box. So, before I subject myself to that sort of venom, I send things off to friends who are neither vicious and generally try to be helpful.

      1. The most grimly amusing reviews are the negative ones that ask you do perform an experiment that’s already in the manuscript they were reviewing.

        And, yes, it’s happened to me.

  5. And why do you headline this post about a malapropism by quoting a famous spoonerism?

  6. I made exactly the same mistake as a gentile girl first going to a heavily Jewish high school — I’d started picking up bits of Yiddish from friends, and referred to someone ‘kibbutzing’ at a chess game. And then suddenly everyone in the lunchroom was looking at me funny. But I learned — by college, I found myself halfway through freshman year having to explain that I wasn’t Jewish to friends who’d never heard a gentile call someone a schmuck before.

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