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shameless pleading

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.

5 comments to Kit and Caboodle

  • This is rather tangential, but you having mentioned a soldier’s ‘kit bag’ reminds me of a fun little Hebrew idiom, which I thought to share: ‘kitbag question’.
    Some background: in Israel, there’s a whole bunch of military jargon terms that have been borrowed from English (which makes sense, seeing as a lot of the Israeli military was based on the British army) – ‘kit bag’, or ‘kitbag’, is one, as is ‘pass’ (that piece of paper signed by an officer that says it’s okay for you to be out of your base), ‘after’ (a short leave, from ‘after-duty’), and a bit more archaically, ‘mesting’ (from ‘mess tin’, which the internet tells me is also called a ‘mess kit’, which brings us back to ‘kit bag’).
    Anyway, the IDF ‘kitbag’ is a standard-issue large bag or sack that soldiers receive upon enlisting to stow all their stuff; and while most soldiers prefer to use normal bags or backpacks, in the strange little world of basic training you are supposed to actually be using that POS as part of your standard gear. And since it is a large, heavy and unwieldy object, the drill sergeants obviously rejoice in having soldiers carry it whether they need to or not.
    Thus comes the (perhaps apocryphal, perhaps based on a grain of truth) story of a troop of soldiers in basic training being told they need to be in spot X within Y minutes, and the one schlemiel who decides to ask ‘should we take our kitbags?’ – the sergeant’s answer being ‘yes’, of course, giving the whole troop extra work.
    So, a ‘kitbag question’ is a question that shouldn’t have been asked, since it causes everyone involved more grief than was previously necessary, e.g. ‘Are we supposed to finish this project before the weekend?’ or ‘Will we have a quiz next week?’ (assuming that the answer will be ‘yes’, and that it might not have been so if the question hasn’t been asked). There is some interpretation that a ‘kitbag question’ is any question with a painfully obvious answer, but I think usage leans more toward what I previously described.

    I hope that wasn’t too long and rambling; I just happen to like this expression, which in some environments can be pretty useful.

  • admin

    “Kitbag question” is great, and your explanation is fascinating — thanks. I don’t know of any other expression that so perfectly sums up that “I can’t believe that fool asked that…”

  • My friend referred me to your site, so I thought I’d come have a read. Very interesting material, will be back for more!

  • [...] – – – – – - Sources for this post include: Wikipedia ~ Kaboodle The Word Detective ~ kit and caboodle World Wide Words ~ kit and caboodle Like this:LikeBe the first to like [...]

  • When Iwas a young lad , What we called bum’s in the old days, Would come around to the back of my grand mother restrant, for food she would feed them, they put most of the food in a pice of cloth tied it up and stuck it on a stick they caried over their shoulder. they they called their kit and caboutal JR

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