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90s Slang You Should Know


[shah-muh s, shey-] /ˈʃɑ məs, ˈʃeɪ-/
noun, plural shamuses. Slang.
a detective.
a police officer.
Origin of shamus
1925-30; of obscure origin, though popularly derived from either Yiddish shames shammes or the Irish male given name Séamas Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for shamus
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • You must know that a very long time ago, when many kings ruled Ireland, there lived a boy named shamus.

  • The recitation of "shamus O'Brien" seemed tame by comparison.

    A Pirate of Parts Richard Neville
  • The only chance of balancing it seemed to be by sight draft on shamus' wagon or an entry of war.

    Buffalo Land W. E. Webb
  • "Good," said shamus, and away he went to seek the King of the Gnomes.

  • shamus could have slain him where he stood for those ungracious words, but he bided his time, pretending to be well-pleased.

  • "You do not badly for a beginner," said he when shamus had finished.

  • Grane and shamus had died the swift death of all poetic conceptions confronted by harsh reality.

    Painted Veils James Huneker
  • And he asked shamus, but he pretended he was ill—Oh, he was very unwell!

    Angling Sketches Andrew Lang
British Dictionary definitions for shamus


/ˈʃɑːməs; ˈʃeɪ-/
noun (pl) -muses
(US, slang) a police or private detective
Word Origin
probably from shammes, influenced by Irish Séamas James
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for shamus

"police officer, detective," 1920, apparently first in "The Shamus," a detective story published that year by Harry J. Loose (1880-1943), a Chicago police detective and crime writer; the book was marketed as "a true tale of thiefdom and an expose of the real system in crime." The word is said to be probably from Yiddish shames, literally "sexton of a synagogue" ("a potent personage only next in influence to the President" [Israel Zangwill]), from Hebrew shamash "servant;" influenced by Celtic Seamus "James," as a typical name for an Irish cop.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for shamus



  1. A police officer, private detective, security guard, etc; cop: a British-accented burlesque of the tough American shamus/ Soon a character began to develop: a shamus named Marlowe (1925+)
  2. A police informer; stool pigeon (1940s+)

[fr Yiddish, ''sexton of a synagogue,'' fr Hebrew shamash, ''servant''; perhaps influenced by the Celtic name Seamus, ''James,'' as a typical name of an Irish police officer]

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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