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Miriam
Squat, nada, naught, zip, zilch and bubkes - Talking about absolutely nothing

The other day I stumbled upon bubkes/bupkis. A character in the TV series Lucifer said, when the murder suspect turned out to be innocent: "We're back to bubkes." So, they had nothing to show for, they we're back to square one. I found this expression quite interesting. I already knew that there is a plethora of words for expressing nothing in English, like squat, nada, naught, zip and zilch that I mentioned in the title. More words can be found here: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Thesaurus:nothing. But I didn't know bubkes before. It derives from the Yiddish word kozebubkes (goat droppings) and bob (beans) and means, well, beans as in nothing. Interestingly in German "nicht die Bohne"  (not the bean) also means nothing

When I looked up other words for saying nothing, I found this:

https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/152427/what-is-the-origin-of-the-phrase-zero-zip-zilch-nada

I found this particular post interesting: "These are all called Squatitives, believe it or not. In particular, zero, zip, zilch (and perhaps nada) are Bahnhofers." Never heard squatitives before but apparently they are taboo words that can be used to express negation. More on squatitives can be found here:

http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jlawler/haj/squatitives.html

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/285102407_Flaubert_triggers_squatitive_negation_and_other_quirks_of_grammar

http://www.gist.ugent.be/file/253

But what is a "Bahnhofer"? Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof. (I only understand train station = I understand nothing ; German idiom). Is this a creation by the poster or does this work exist in English and express, well, nothing? Who would have thought that nothing could be so intriguing?

Any insides by native speakers on nothing would be much appreciated.

(Yes, and my use of the word "nothing" is ambiguous and a bit humorous.)

18 apr 2019 19:41
Comments · 4

Although they tend to spread, many words like "bubkes" and "nada" are regional. Yiddish-derived words are characteristic of New York City, because of the huge wave of Jewish immigration into New York circa 1900.

There must be thousands of Spanish words that have become adopted into English. "Canyon" was actually spelled "cañon" in 1905 when Jack London published his story, "All Gold Canyon." They came by way of California (which was Spanish for centuries), Mexico, and cowboys. Lariat ("la riata,"), arroyo, buckeroo ("vaquero"), ranch, rodeo. I laughed once when a language companion asked me how to translate the Spanish word "burro," because the English word for small breeds of donkey is "burro." Of course, we change the pronunciation. The Spanish pronunciation is something like "boo-row," while the English is almost exactly the same as the words "burrow" and "borough."

"Nada" is becoming quite common. In fact, let me check: yes, a dictionary simply lists it as slang for "nothing, zero."

18 april 2019
Yes, nada is actually Spanish but it's used informally in English as well.
18 april 2019

Hi Miriam :)

I know the word naught only. The word nada means nothing in Spanish not in English, right? That is quite frustrating because it is my name.

18 april 2019
"Nada" in Portuguese also means "nothing".
18 april 2019
Miriam
Language Skills
Chinese (Mandarin), French, German
Learning Language
Chinese (Mandarin)