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Word for the Wise January 10, 2007 Broadcast Topic: Words that mean nothing

When a friend asked for the stories behind words she lumped together as a whole lotta nothin' we discovered plenty to talk about. In fact, there is so much to say, we're going to reserve one term—zip—for another day. (来源:www.EnglishCN.com)

That gives us time to cover nil, zilch, bupkes, and squat. We begin by noting it is no small thing—literally—to come up with the story behind nil. Nil comes from the negative prefix ne plus hilum meaning "small thing; trifle." And while virtually nothing is known about the origin of zilch, lexicographers have traced that term's print debut to the mid-1960s.

We know perhaps too much about how bupkes and squat dropped into our lexicon. Bupkes—which can mean either "the least amount; beans" or simply "nothing"—is believed to be a shortening of the Yiddish kozebupkes, literally "goat droppings." Bupkes is also the plural of the diminutive of the Slavic bup meaning "bean."

The slangy squat meaning "the least amount; anything at all;" traces to diddly-squat, which was itself probably an alteration of doodley-squat. So where does doodley-squat come from? Brace yourself. Lexicographers theorized it may be an alteration of do one's do (meaning "to defecate"), plus squat, meaning "crouch."

 
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