Word Origin & History
derogatory slang for "Jew," 1904, perhaps originating among Ger.-American Jews in reference to newcomers from Eastern Europe, whose names ended in -ki or -ky. Philip Cowen, first editor of "The American Hebrew," suggests a source in Yiddish kikel "circle." According to him, Jewish immigrants, ignorant
of writing with the Latin alphabet, signed their entry forms with a circle, eschewing the "X" as a sign of Christianity. Ellis Island immigration inspectors began calling such people kikels, and the term shortened as it passed into general use.