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There was the following passage in the New Yorker's (August 27) article titled, “A scandal at the C.I.A. May be.” :

In January I (David Shafer, novelist) filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the C.I.A., asking for any information relating to my grandfather and Thomas Whittemore and the events of June 1950. They took two months to give me bupkes. But to give me bupkes, they were required to invoke a FOIA exemption, and the exemption that C.I.A. involved were (b)(3), which means the records are protected by another federal statute, and (b)(1) ---

Though I was unable to find the definition of “bupke” in OED (10th ed.), OALD (2000), and Collins Cobuild (4th ed.) at hand, I happened to find its definition at bageldrive.com, which says “bupke” is;

A mini-bagel deliciously baked to perfection with fully functional USB 2.0 flash memory and a shmeer. It’s the world’s first electronic bagel. The Bagel Drive is ideal for storing files, photos, video, music and all of your digital tchochkes. The site also shows photos of USB attached to plastic bagel models.

What does bupke mean? Is it a flash memory in a bagel shape as described in bagldrive com.? Does it pass as the generic term of flash memory?

Beside, I wonder why CIA takes bother of using such a funky shape of all flash memories to provide data to the requester.

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10  
No. This has nothing to do with bagels or flash drives. "bupkes"/bupkis is just slang for "nuthin'". The bageldrive lead is a red herring. –  Jim Aug 29 at 5:56
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google.com/search?q=define+bupkis /ˈbo͝opkis,ˈbəp-/ [noun US informal] nothing at all. "you know bupkis about fundraising" –  Cristi Diaconescu Aug 29 at 8:55
    
I was under the impression that while the word with multiple spellings can mean, literally, beans, it also carries with it a hint of scatology, since the feces of some animals can be the size and shape of beans. "They took two months to give me s_ _ t" would say the same thing. Reminds me of the little schoolboy who brought his girlfriend at school a little bag of raisins every day for several months. One day he failed to bring her her raisins. She quite naturally inquired, "What happened to my bag of raisins?" "Oh," her boyfriend said, "my rabbit died." Don –  rhetorician Aug 29 at 13:57
    
Pretty sure the intent is "bupkis" -- a Yiddish word for "nothing". In fact, there is an old Dick Van Dyke episode with that title, and you can find it here: tv.com/shows/the-dick-van-dyke-show/bupkis-11852 –  Hot Licks Aug 29 at 20:49
    
Some more info: wordsmith.org/words/bupkis.html –  Hot Licks Aug 29 at 20:52

5 Answers 5

up vote 25 down vote accepted

If it's any consolation, Yoichi Oishi, the various forms of bupkes were not widely used and understood in the English-speaking world either, until a few decades ago. Here are the first readable/intelligible occurrences of each spelling of the word that a Google Books search finds:

bobkes: From Charles Angoff, In the Morning Light (1953):

"As bad as that," asked Moshe.

"Eh, we do get an order for a suit or two from some old customers, customers I myself got. Some alterations, some new suits. But it's all bobkes (peanuts). Not enough to pay for the gas and electric bills. Maybe it pays for the rent, maybe it doesn't, I don't know. I don't figure any more."

bubkes: From Donald Wayne, Flowers in the Valley (1937) [snippet]:

"Your dollar is still fifty-nine cents, whether you like it or not."

"Ah, bubkes," the man in the chair said, removing his cigar. His name was Spingarn and he was a tailor's cutter, short and fat, with small puffed eyes that gave him a sleepy greasy look.

bubkis: From Maxwell Bodenheim, Duke Herring (1931) [snippet]:

"What's that rag doing over there on the armchair?" he asked. "Don't tell me you go to the synagogue, Madge. Hot bubkis, that would be irony steaming from the water-closet. But now that I think of it, it's funny I never noticed that eyesore before."

bupkes: From Gilbert Rogin, What Happens Next? (1971) [snippet]:

"Do you think it distracts from my having next to bupkes on top?" Miles said. He took his hands off the wheel and, thrusting his head at me, grabbed most of his hair in two handfuls and violently parted it, disclosing his wan crown.

bupkis: From The New Yorker (1942) [snippet]:

"Wossamatta wichoo?" he wrote from Miami Beach this February. "You ain't got no conegshins in Flodda? A fortnight awready I been here and wos happening? Bupkis. A press agent like I got shouldn't happen to a dog-eared edition of 'Little Dorrit.'

bupkus: From Arnold Kanter, The Secret Memoranda of Stanley J. Fairweather (1981) [snippet]:

16.3 A resigning Partner shall be entitled to bupkus.


Meaning of the Term

With regard to the meaning of bupkes in Yiddish, several sources have fairly precise opinions. From Abbott J. Liebling, The Wayward Pressman (1947) [snippet]:

The high total may be explained by the circumstance that there is no Newspaper Guild minimum wage for columnists. Many of them work for bubkis (beans), as the boys say, either because they want the publicity for use in another profession (the stage or radio) or in the hope of catching on and getting a profitable syndication.

From Leo Rosten, King Silky (1980) [snippet]:

bupkes!: Nuts! Actualy, bupkes (or bubkes) means "beans," but it is about anything that's not worth a bean.

From Michael Gold, Jews Without Money (1930) [snippet]:

There is no baby in there, but a big pot full of hot black-eyed beans. "Bubkes!" she wails in a sort of Chinese falsetto, "buy my hot, fresh bubkes!' We forget the dancing, and remember the pennies burning a hole in Joey's pocket. We order some bubkes.

From Midstream; a Monthly Jewish Review (1979) [snippet]:

My grandmother donates to good causes. "Two Jews, three opinions," my grandfather says. "What will she get for it?" Only bupkes—"chick peas" in the old country. My grandfather is his own good cause.

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Are the "forms" just different spellings of the same word; are they all pronounced the same? –  Nick T Aug 30 at 2:45
    
Hllo, Nick T. Yes, by "forms" I meant spelling variants; my sense is that each variant represents what a writer thought he or she heard when someone else spoke the word bupkes. –  Sven Yargs Aug 30 at 14:58

I am fairly sure that "bubkes" is actually a Yiddish word, and in this context having the same meaning as "nothing".

They took two months to give me nothing. But to give me nothing, they were required to invoke a FOIA exemption.

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Is the question a joke?

If not, google bupke (or bupkis). You will find descriptions such as the one on this page:

bupkis (also bupkes, bupkus, bubkis, bubkes): emphatically nothing, as in He isn't worth bupkis (indeterminate, either 'beans' or 'goat droppings', possibly of Slavic, Vlach, or Greek origin; cf. Polish bobki 'animal droppings')[2] (MW, OED)

I'm guessing that what you cite is a description of a hard drive that looks something like a bupke.

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2  
Why would the question be a joke? If your answer only guesses at the interpretation of the cited passage, then it seems like a fair question to me. –  J.R. Aug 29 at 7:24
    
@Drew. I'm not joking. Of course I searched the word and definition of'bulke' on google, but was unable to link the page you suggested somehow. In my command of English as EASL, I can't tell whether to ask question about forein word comes off as a serious one or a joke? –  Yoichi Oishi Aug 29 at 7:52
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Of course it is a fair question. I thought it might be a joke, but I guessed it probably was not, and I answered it. At any rate, both the product name and (hence) the question are humorous, at the end of the day. At least I hope people can appreciate that. –  Drew Aug 29 at 13:58
    
@YoichiOishi - I really like your question and upvoted it (and the best answers). I am very curious (I really do not understand the search process in different countries) why Google didn't give you an answer in your country. This seems to be a common phenomenon and a source of frequent misunderstanding on this site. If I google define bupke, I get this. What do you get? I would love to see it. –  medica Aug 30 at 16:25
    
@Medica. Thanks for upvote and your giving google link, which obviously differs from Tokyo version. In your link, the 1st item shows ‘Scrabble word solver’ saying ‘Definitions of Bupke No definitions were found matching the word 'bupke'. 2nd and 3rd item surprisingly shows this particular question of my own on EL&U, and 4th item shows Merriam Webster online with definition- the smallest amount or part imaginable. The 5th item (Serverfault com) reads: “The JRE_HOME environment variable is not defined correctly. This environment variable is needed to run this program. –  Yoichi Oishi Aug 31 at 0:23

Bupkis/bupki/bupke is slang for "nothing." It's not in much use in the modern vernacular.

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/bupkis

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An Inquiry Into Bubkes and Kozebubkes

Several authorities—including Anu Garg at A.Word.A.Day (cited by Hot Licks in a comment above) and Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary assert that the original form of the bupkes family of spellings was bubkes—and that this word probably derives from the word kozebubkes.

Here is Garg's etymological note for bupkis:

From Yiddish, short for kozebubkes (goat droppings), from bub/bob (bean). Earliest documented use: 1937.

And here is the MW Online note for bubkes:

Origin of BUBKES: Yiddish (probably short for kozebubkes, literally, goat droppings), plural of bubke, bobke, diminutive of bub, bob bean, of Slavic origin; akin to Polish bób bean. First Known Use: 1937

But very few modern writers who use the term casually seem aware of that etymological connection. A Google Books search finds only one instance in which a novelist explicitly treats bupkis as a short form of kozebubkes. From Stella Suberman, The Jew Store (2001):

It was perhaps this last galling thought that got him to his feet. And, incredible as it was, even to him, he managed a smile and a thanks. Thanks for what? he asked himself. For bupkis, for goat shit (“Excuse me, children”), that's for what.

In contrast, we have two examples where a memoirist recalls a grandmother using some form of the term bupkis, which the author translates as “beans.” From Edward Cohen, The Peddler’s Grandson: Growing Up Jewish in Mississippi (1999):

The bread was made locally by bakers who, as my grandmother would say, knew bupkes (beans) about Jewish rye bread, and in truth it was a virtually tasteless beige bread that bore as little resemblance to the genuine article as would the concoction of a Brooklyn rabbi’s wife who might improbably try her hand at cornbread.

Stephen Jay Gould, Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life (1999):

How could anyone look so deeply into the heart of biological causality and the history of life, and then offer us such a piddling dribble—bupkes, as my grandmother would have said—on the meaning of life and the ultimate order of things[?]

Are we to imagine that that these grandmothers intended to say “goat turds” but then blandly informed their grandchildren that the Yiddish term meant “beans”? It seems much more likely that, whatever the source meaning may have been, bupkis meant simply “beans”—literally or figuratively—in Yiddish/English from a very early date.

The earliest instance of bubkes that a Google Books search finds is from Abraham Cahan, “Fish, Fish, Living, Floundering, Jumping, Dancing Fish” (1899), quoted in Gateway to the Promised Land: Ethnic Cultures on New York’s Lower East Side (1994), which reports the following chaotic swirl of street peddler cries in a street scene on Manhattan’s Lower East Side at the end of the nineteenth century:

‘Fish! Fish! Living, floundering, jumping dancing fish! Pike, pike, pike! Take pity and buy the living pike! I cash clothes, I cash clothes! Bubkes, buy my hot, fresh bubkes\ Candy, ladies, finest in America! Only a nickel, a half-a-dime, five cents! Potatoes as big as your fist! A bargain in muslin! Buy a calico remnant—calico as good as silk, sweet little housewives!'

A similar scene occurs in Mike Gold’s semi-autobiographical novel Jews Without Money (1930):

There is no baby in there, but a big pot full of hot black-eyed beans. "Bubkes!" she wails in a sort of Chinese falsetto, "buy my hot, fresh bubkes!'

Gold was born on the Lower East Side in 1894. I can’t conceive of a street vendor trying to sell freshly prepared beans in a Yiddish-speaking neighborhood by referring to them as “goat turds” instead of using an uncontaminated word for “beans” (such as beblakh, cited by Leo Rosten), unless no potential buyers on the street were making the association with kozebubkes.

Another interesting comment in a memoir comes from Louis Lozowick (1892–1973), who was born in Ukraine but emigrated to the United States in 1906. From his memoir, published as Survivor From a Dead Age (1997):

If one wanted to make fun of a Jewish beard, it was likened to a goat's (tsigene berdl). To designate a small amount of money or income, one said it was just goat's droppings (tsigene bobkes). Perhaps it all goes back to scriptural authority.

Here it appears that the word tsigene (“goat”) was included in the phrase tsigene bobkes to mean “goat droppings” because bobkes alone would have been understood simply as “beans.”

Many authors provide an explicit “beans” translation for the Yiddish term. From A.J. Liebling, The Jollity Building (1962):

"The best you can get there," performers say, "is a chance to work Saturday night at a ruptured saloon for bubkis." "Bubkis" is a Yiddish word which means "large beans."

From Rachel Levine, Cyberyenta’s Old-Fashioned Wisdom for Newfangled Times (2001):

Bupkis—beans, but always meant to be something worthless. Like, “What will I get for all my hard work on this book? Bupkis!”

From Evan Morris, The Word Detective (2001):

The word you’re looking for is not butkis. It's bupkes (also spelled bubkis, bupkis, and bubkes), which is Yiddish for "beans," or, figuratively, "nothing, nada, zilch." But there's more to bupkes than just "nothing." When you say you got bupkes from a deal you brokered, for instance, it really means you got nothing when you should have gotten at least something if there were any justice at all in this world. All of which is a lot for one word to say, but Yiddish is good at that.

From Tom Dalzell, The Routledge Dictionary of Modern American Slang and Unconventional English (2008)

bupkes; bupkis noun nothing—used for expressing scorn at something deemed foolish or trivial US, 1942 From the Russian for “beans.”

From Herb Gardner, Conversations with My Father (1994):

”Gornisht”—in case it wasn’t clear to you—means nothing. “Gornisht with gornisht” being less than nothing. The only thing less than that is "bupkes," which is beans, and less than that is "bupkes mit beblach," which is beans with more beans. In Yiddish, the only thing less than nothing is the existence of something so worthless that the presence of nothing becomes more obvious.

From Leo Rosten, The New Joys of Yiddish: Completely Updated (1996):

bobkes, bubkes, bopkes, bupkes Pronounced BOP-kess to rhyme with “mop kiss,” or BUB-kiss to rhyme with “put this” or BAWP-kess to rhyme with “stalk-mess” or BUB-kess, to rhyme with pub mess.” Russian: beans. But Jews say “Bobkes!” not to designate beans (beblakh does that), but to describe, with considerable scorn, (1) something trivial, worthless, insultingly disproportionate to expectations. “I worked on it three hours—an what did he give me? Bobkes!” (I think “Bobkes!” more eloquent, because more harsh, than peanuts!”) (2) something absurd, foolish, nonsensical. “I’ll sum up his idea in one word: bobkes!”

Bobkes must be uttered with either scorn, sarcasm, indignation, or contempt. The expletive takes over where “Nonsense!” “Baloney!” or “Bushwa!” stops for a rest.

I know of no English word that carries quite that deflating, even bitter, aroma.

From Gene Blaustein, Anglish/Yinglish: Yiddish in American Life and Literature, second edition (1998):

BUHPkis n. Literally beans. But the word is also used to indicate something absolutely worthless, very much like our expression “not worth a hill of beans.” You might say, “What did I get for my effort—BUHPkis!” BUHPkis also works as an expletive, not as strong as “bullshit” but carrying the same connotations.

Claims of of an essential etymological connection between bupkis and kozebubkes are most common in reference works of the past thirty years or so. For instance, from Yetta Emmes, Drek!: The Real Yiddish Your Bubbeh Never Taught You (1998):

Bobkes (BUB-kis)—literally, goat turds. An absurd idea; an insulting offer, as in “What you're offering me is bobkes.”

One author asserts that the distinction between kozebubkes–derived bobkes and the nonscatalogical bobkes remains current in Yiddish, but I haven’t found any other reference that makes this argument. From Fred Kogos, From Shmear to Eternity: The Only Book of Yiddish You’ll Ever Need (2006):

Bobkes Small things, triflings, peanuts, nothing, worthless (lit., Excreta of sheep, goats)

Bubkes Beans; a mere bagatelle

Two fairly extensive treatments of bobkis are especially interesting. First, from Sol Steinmetz, Dictionary of Jewish Usage (2005):

bobkes. In Yiddish, this word is an interjection meaning 'rubbish! nonsense!,' derived from bobke, which means 'sheep or goat dung.' The word was borrowed from the Polish noun bobki, of the same meaning. Nevertheless, many have confused this word with the Yiddish words for beans, bobes, a confusion that has led Jewish English speakers to equate bobkes with the American English slang use of “beans,” as in He don’t know beans (attested in English since 1833), and I don’t care beans about that. So sentences like “I got bobkes for all my efforts,” “He made bobkes this year on the market,” and “Even if you win the case, the damages you’ll get will be worth bobkes” are examples of Jewish English usage[.]

And from David Gold, “A Yiddish-Origin English Word Misetymologized for at Least Sixty-six Years (Bopkes),” in Studies in Etymology and Etiology (2009):

The translation ‘nonsense!’ is too weak because it does not convey the moderate coarseness of the Yiddish word [bopkes]. Were English poppycock ‘nonsense’ to have retained the meaning of its Dutch etymon, namely ‘soft excrement’, it would be a denotationally and connotationally perfect English equivalent (that is, a moderately coarse slangism with an unveiled fecal allusion), but that meaning was not retained, as a result of which the English word is innocuous and thus would be inappropriate to render Yiddish bopkes!.

Presumably, if poppycock retained even a hint of the source word’s meaning “soft excrement,” ConAgra Foods would not have chosen it as the brand name for a line of candied popcorn. Similarly, it seems to me, Yiddish-speaking street vendors at the turn of the twentieth century would not have freely used bubkes to advertise their wares, and Yiddish-speaking grandmothers in the middle of the twentieth century would not have used the same term in conversations with their grandchildren unless, for them, the term meant only “beans.”

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Really elaborate and academic discourse. I'm impressed and thankful for your input. –  Yoichi Oishi Sep 2 at 2:23

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