One of the joys of this Ireland rip has been to hang out with Jolene, a.k.a. “Ish”, my 6’1” favorite sister, a pharmacist who became that when her plans to become a vet fell through. The main reason we’re here is to celebrate our mom’s 90th birthday, with a big blowout planned for Killarney next Saturday. See us all together at Mom’s place in Stanwood a couple Octobers ago as we gathered then to fėte her as she pushed off to Mazatlán Mexico for the winter:
Seated: Di, Amy (“Marge”, who died suddenly in May), Mom. Standing: Jolene (“Ish”), me
Jolene got that nickname in an offhanded fashion, telling some guy asking her name, as she exited a bar, that hers was “Ish Kabibble”. The name stuck. Growing up with Mom’s music, she was familiar with Spike Jones and with Kay Kyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge, for whom the main cornet player was Erie Pennsylvania’s Meryn (Mern) Bogue. Before hooking up with the big bands, Mr. Bogue was a solo musical comedian (1).
One of the tunes in his repertoire was “Isch ga-bibble.”, a phrase derived from a mock-Yiddish expression, “Ische ga bibble?”, which was purported to mean “I should worry?”
The phrase lived on on Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Newman’s lips as “What, me worry?”. There is an actual Yiddish phrase – “nisht gefidlt” – meaning “it doesn’t matter to me,” from which the term “ish kabibble” may derive. Fannie Brice (“Funny girl”: 1891-1951) used this phrase in her act (2). It stuck with Mr. Bogue and he had a long career playing cornet and cracking jokes as Ish Kabibbile. Kay Kyser had rescued him from West Virginia Law School in 1931 and employed him till the band broke up in 1950 (3). Ish managed the band for most of that stretch.and appeared in 10 movies. Spike Jones lured him away for a year, but Ish did not like the experience. After the breakup, Ish continued to perform with the band’s singer, his good friend Mike Douglas, who went on to have a long career as a television host.
I was happy to learn a few years back that my sis Ish loves her nickname and likes being called that. During the early days of COVID, out grocery shopping and listening to the student radio station on my earbuds, I was surprise to hear the DJ identify herself as “-ish” (4). While some of the young DJs at WCBN have an impressively deep knowledge of old music, I wondered whether this “-ish” would know anything of Mr. Bogue. I’ve not yet e-mailed her. It’s possible her name instead applies to the modifying suffix used by sloppy speakers and writers of English everywhere.
Jolene actually prefers a longer contraction of Mr. Kabibble’s name: “Ishka”. Grocery shopping last night after hitting town, we were surprised to see her name staring at us from the shelves of bottled water (5). Hard to say ho they came up with that word, other than founder Michael Sutton’s recollection that “My Mum was a great Irish speaker and she came up with the phonetics for the Ishka brand.” (6). No word if she was a fan of the Big Bands
Needless to say, it’s what we’re drinking, at least when the choice of beverage is non-alcoholic. Here’s to my Ishka!
PS. If you’re wanting to learn a little more about the original Ish, here are a couple videos (7,8).
- Ish Kabibble. Wikipedia 4/20/22. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ish_Kabibble
2. Ish kabibble. Online Etymology Dictionary. https://www.etymonline.com/word/ish%20kabibble
3. Merz C. The History of “Ish Kabibble”. Hagan History Center. 7/8/22. https://www.eriehistory.org/blog/the-history-of-ish-kabibble
4. -ish. WCBN. https://app.wcbn.org/djs/325
5. Ishka. Irish spring water. https://www.irishspringwater.com
6. .O’Connor F. We had an idea and we bottled it: How the good times keep on flowing at Ishka. Independent.ie. 12/12/21. https://www.independent.ie/business/we-had-an-idea-and-we-bottled-it-how-the-good-times-keep-on-flowing-at-ishka-41137573.html.