Etymological Ruminations

The most welcome and very non-riff-raffy Professor Mondo sends us a message inscribed on a reeve:

O Terror of the Steppes (and also the Escalatorres):

Your post reminded me of a bit of oddness I’ve wondered about for some time.

As someone who has done music for 30-some years now, I’ve heard a number of words for smokeable hemp. One such word is “chiba” (sometimes spelled “cheeba”, as in the band Morcheeba.) I have occasionally wondered if that term may have been a reference to Sonny, as in “This stuff’ll hit you like Chiba.” Worth adding to this is the fact that Sonny’s movies were a staple of inner-city/grindhouse theatres in the 70s, and the inner city is a significant source of such argot.

The real origin is probably far more pedestrian, but as I said, I wonder…



The Czar is happy to oblige.

The term certainly predates Sonny Chiba. In fact, the Czar posits two theories on the word’s etymology:

  1. Dating to the late 1960s, the word comes from chiba chiba, a slang-word of Central American origin. Anglicized, there are numerous spellings, but the root word might be the Central American chivo, meaning “bad boy.” Alternatively, additional the doubling of chiba chiba may come from chibola, which is again Central American for a carbonated soft drink: chiba chiba is like “pop pop,” a juvenile word for a recreational beverage. A synthesis of the two is very likely.
  2. Dating to the early 1400s, the word comes from chiba, a Middle English word for a topic too allegorical even for a frame tale. See “The Book of the Duchess,” 421-422: “So grete trees, so huge of strengthe, Of fourty or fifty chibas lengthe.” This is likely descended from Old French chivas, meaning horse crap. The Scotch derives its name thusly.

Please pick the one more plausible to you, good sir. The Czar makes no judgments.

About The Czar of Muscovy

Божію Поспѣшествующею Милостію Мы, Дима Грозный Императоръ и Самодержецъ Всероссiйскiй, цѣсарь Московскiй. The Czar was born in the steppes of Russia in 1267, and was cheated out of total control of all Russia by upon the death of Boris Mikhailovich, who replaced Alexander Yaroslav Nevsky in 1263. However, in 1283, our Czar was passed over due to a clerical error and the rule of all Russia went to his second cousin Daniil (Даниил Александрович), whom Czar still resents. As a half-hearted apology, the Czar was awarded control over Muscovy, inconveniently located 5,000 miles away just outside Chicago. He now spends his time seething about this and writing about other stuff that bothers him.