Kit and Caboodle

The whole shebang, with cheese.

Dear Word Detective: Would you happen to where the term “the whole kit and caboodle” originated? I’ve seen several different answers to this question and I don’t know which one to believe. — Terri.

Rats. I wish you had sent along some of the explanations you’ve read. I know I frequently express annoyance at the loopy word-origin stories tour guides and their ilk often propagate. But the truth is that I find the good ones (like medieval peasants losing their kids in the bathtub while cats fall through the roof) weirdly fascinating and occasionally hilarious. So heads up, gang. From now on, please take notes when you encounter the words “It all goes back to….”

“Kit and caboodle” is a slang expression, dating back to the mid-19th century, meaning “everything” or “all of it” (“The whole kit and caboodle of us were then investigated by the FBI to see how many subversives there were among us,” 1969). Interestingly, there were several variants of “kit and caboodle” in use at during the same period, including “kit and boodle,” “kit and cargo” and the slightly mysterious “kit and biling” (“biling” being a regional pronunciation of “boiling,” originally “the whole boiling,” meaning an entire batch of soup or stew). But as weird as “kit and biling” is, English slang had already produced some admirably odd phrases meaning “all and everything,” including “top and tail” (1509), “prow and poop” (1561), and the Anglo-Indian term “the whole sub-cheese” (from the Hindi “sub,” all, plus “chiz,” things, also possibly the root of “big cheese”). The 19th century zeal for phrases meaning “everything” also produced “lock, stock and barrel,” a refreshingly lucid list of the important bits of a flintlock rifle.

The “kit” in “kit and caboodle” is fairly straightforward, “kit” being an 18th century English slang term for “outfit” or “collection,” as in a soldier’s “kit bag,” which contained supplies (and often all his worldly possessions). The root of “kit” was probably the Middle Dutch word “kitte,” meaning a cask or tub made of wooden staves. This “kit” then came to mean a small basket used to carry various articles, and from there took on the meaning of the collection of articles carried by a workman or soldier in a knapsack or valise. “Kit” in this sense of “collection of assorted stuff carried for a job” eventually also gave us a drummer’s “kit” (consisting of various drums, cymbals, etc.) and “kit” in the sense of a collection of parts that are intended to be put together by the buyer.

The “caboodle” is a bit more obscure, but we can assume that the original word here was “boodle” (since “kit and boodle” came earlier) and that the “ca” was added later in the interest of alliteration. “Boodle” first appeared as slang in the US around 1833 meaning “a crowd or pack” of people or things, but later in the 19th century was used to mean “money,” especially money either stolen or acquired through illegal activity (“Boodle … has come to mean a large roll of bills such as political managers are supposed to divide among their retainers,” 1884). It’s not entirely certain that these two “boodles” are the same word. While “boodle” in the “money” sense is considered a likely descendant of the Dutch “boedel,” meaning “money, property,” the use of “boodle” to mean “a collection of things or people” may be connected to “bundle.”

In any case, while “boodle” meaning “money” seems to have faded away in recent years, “kit and caboodle” has proven a very durable slang term, especially in the US, perhaps because of its slightly mysterious sound. I must admit, however, that I’m beginning to feel an irresistible urge to start dropping “the whole sub-cheese” into my daily conversations.

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