The Grammarphobia Blog

Nibble, nibble, toil and “kibble”

Q: When the vet told me to feed my cat half a cup of kibble each day, I asked him where the word “kibble” came from. He didn’t know. Then I spent two hours on the Internet, but I didn’t find the answer. Can you help me?

A: The verb “kibble,” meaning to grind grain or cereal into rough bits, has been around since the late 18th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

The noun “kibble” is even older, dating from the early 15th century, but it had nothing to do with pet food (or bits of grain) in the early days. It meant, among other things, a cudgel, a cobblestone, a piece of coal, and a kibble-hound–a cross between a beagle and the old English hound. (The OED speculates that the “kibble” in “kibble-hound” may have referred to a family name.)

The first published reference to “kibble” as pet-food pellets, according to the OED, was in the early 1930s. The origin of the word is uncertain. One theory is that “kibble” might be related to the word “cobble.” (In the late 19th century, cobbles—small, cobblestone-like chunks of coal—were referred to as “kibbles.”)

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