“Shame. Shame. Come back!” Yes, I’ve shamelessly borrowed (and altered) the last line from the 1953 Western “Shane” as a plea for the return of “shame.”
“Shame. Shame. Come back!”
Yes, I’ve shamelessly borrowed (and altered) the last line from the 1953 Western “Shane” as a plea for the return of “shame.”
So many public figures have said and done things recently that, if I were in their position, I would be so ashamed I would go into hiding — maybe even try to change my identity.
Most of them, however, don’t seem to be affected at all. Not only do they not shun the spotlight, they find new platforms from which to misspeak, mislead and misbehave.
Webster’s first definition of “shame” is “a painful feeling of having lost the respect of others because of the improper behavior, incompetence, etc. of oneself or of someone that one is close to or associated with.”
And if losing the respect of others isn’t enough, how about losing self-respect?
Some of these culprits do manage an initial demonstration of regret. Some even say they’re sorry. But are those true shows of shame, or is it all a “sham” — a word that was probably derived from “shame.”
A “sham” can be “an imitation that is meant to deceive”; “a hypocritical action, deceptive appearance, etc.”; or “a person who is not what he or she pretends to be.”
You’ve probably heard the hairdresser pun about “shampoo” — “We only use real poo here.” Of course, that’s not the “sham” in “shampoo.” The word is actually derived from the Hindi “champo,” a form of a word meaning “press, knead.”
Reflecting this origin, “shampoo” originally meant “to massage.” Now it’s about cleaning hair, scalps and rugs.
On that note, “rug” is slang for “toupee,” which can be considered “sham hair.”
Another “sham” word is “shamrock,” which indeed isn’t a rock but a plant. The word comes from “seamrog,” a form of “seamar” — that’s “clover” in Ireland, where the shamrock is a national symbol.
Speaking of Ireland, “Seamas” (Irish for “James”) is probably part of the inspiration for the slang “shamus” — “a policeman” or “a private detective.”
The other likely influence is “shamas,” a Yiddish word from the Hebrew for “servant, sexton.” A “shamas” is a synagogue official and the candle used for lighting the other candles in a Hanukkah menorah.
Two other terms in the “sham-” section of the dictionary also have origins in ancient civilizations.
“Shamash” is the name of the sun god in Babylonian and Assyrian mythology — admittedly a subject that doesn’t pop up very often.
But you’ve probably encountered “shaman,” “a priest or medicine man who is believed able to heal and to foretell the future through communication with good and evil spirits.”
It’s a Russian word, with a history that goes back through various Asian cultures to a Sanskrit term for “ascetic.”
And then we have “shamble” and “shambles.” The former is a verb for “to walk in a lazy or clumsy manner, barely lifting the feet.” In other words, “to shuffle.” It also can be a noun for such a walk.
“Shambles,” on the other hand, is a noun whose ancestors are various words for “bench” or “stool.” Its nearest relative, in Middle English, often referred to a bench “for displaying meat for sale.”
In British English, it became “a place where meat is sold,” which Webster’s says is “now only a local usage.”
From there, “shambles” became “a slaughterhouse,” then more generally “a scene of great slaughter, bloodshed or carnage.”
Nowadays it usually means “any scene or condition of great destruction or disorder.”
So there’s a big difference between saying “a man shambles” (he has an unusual walk) and “a man’s life is a shambles.”
And “ain’t that a shame,” if he’s “the one to blame”?
Contact Barry Wood at email@example.com or read his blog at blogs.e-rockford.com/woodonwords/.