Column: Knowing everything about nothing


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

My daughter likes to ask me what my name is. I say “Dad.” Pointing to her nose, she asks, “What’s this?” I reply, “Nose.” Then she opens her empty hands and asks, “What am I holding?” to which I say, “Nothing.” Putting my answers together, she says, “See? Dad knows nothing.” She’s four.

This led me to thinking — I can rattle off several words that mean “nothing.” Today, I’d like to define variations and synonyms of “nothing.”

“Bubkes” (or “bupkes”, “bupkus”) is the Yiddish word for “nothing” or “the least amount.” If the local high school football team is lousy, you might say, “They won’t win bubkes this season.”

“Diddly-squat” means “the least amount” or “anything at all.” If, in fact, dad knows nothing, diddly-squat is slightly more than absolute zero.

“Goose egg” is a sports term meaning “zero.” It is a term taken from the shape of the numeral zero, which resembles an egg.

“Hill of beans” means the least important amount or value. If my debate opponent didn’t look favorably on my argument, he might say, “Your unverifiable statistics about annual falling coconut deaths don’t amount to a hill of beans!”

“Nada” is a Spanish word for “nothing.” If you’re looking for “nothing,” you’ve found it.

“Nil” also means “nothing.” We get it from the Latin word “nihil.” If you’re considering taking up nihilism as your guiding life philosophy, it won’t amount to anything.

“Naught” (also “nought”) is a flexible word that can mean “nothing, zero, or not much.” The spelling variant “nought” was more popular than “naught” until the late 19th century.

“Null” often takes on legal connotations, meaning “having no legal or binding force.” We get it from the Latin word “nullus,” which means “none.”

“Zilch” means “nothing,” but around the 1930s it meant “an insignificant person.” The word’s origins are early 20th century, and in 1931 we find a character in the comic “Ballyhoo” called “Mr. Zilch.”

“Zip,” as a verb, can mean “fast.” But, as a noun, “zip” means “zero” or “nothing.” If your lousy hometown high school football team scores no points, you might say, “Those bums lost 27 to zip.”

If you run into my daughter in the line for preschool pick up, you can tell her that, yes, her dad knows nothing. But he certainly knows quite a bit about nothing.