[shah-muh s, shey-]
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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 Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for shamus


noun plural -muses
  1. US slang a police or private detective

Word Origin for shamus

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

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