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[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. 2018.
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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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