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Kaput

Kaput is a slangy loanword meaning dead, finished, or useless. Though kaput is the spelling listed in all the dictionaries we checked, the word is sometimes spelled caput. Spell check doesn’t catch this misspelling because caput is an unrelated, dictionary-recognized word, from a Latin word for head, sometimes used in English science texts.1

Kaput comes from French by way of the German kaputt (which some dictionaries list as a secondary spelling of the English word).2 The French word, capot, is from the card game of piquet, where to be capot is to be without tricks and hence defeated.3

Though the Oxford English Dictionary lists several instances of kaput from the first few decades of the 20th century (and one from 1895), the word was not widely used in English until the 1940s, when the phrase Hitler kaput, a slogan used by the Soviet Red Army and other Eastern European forces fighting the Nazis, gave the word global significance.

Examples


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So let’s finish him once and for all—now and forever. Let’s wring his neck and mark him Kaput! [Montreal Gazette (1943)]

For it has been clear for many a year that for all intents and purposes the British empire is kaput. [Schenectady Gazette (1947)]

Then, horror of horrors, the main tube goes kaput, and our man will have to buy a newspaper to find out how it all came out. [Milwaukee Journal (1964)]

Had they folded, NATO credibility would have been kaput. [Palm Beach Post (1983)]

A loss in the NCAA tournament makes an entire season go kaput, so there is a win-or-go-home ultimatum in every game. [Wall Street Journal]

Aberdeen’s 13-game unbeaten run is now kaput. [BBC]

If the Premier withdraws his loan guarantee, asbestos exports will be kaput. [Globe and Mail]

References

1. “Caput” in the OED (subscription required)
2. “Kaput” in the OED
3. Chambers Dictionary of Etymology

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