"I never heard her ask for any cumshaw that weighed less than a ton and which required fewer than a dozen enlisted men and two trucks to move." (James A. Michener, Los Angeles Times, October 19, 1986)
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It was probably British Navy personnel who first picked up "cumshaw" in Chinese ports, during the First Opium War of 1839–42. "Cumshaw" is from a word that means "grateful thanks" in the dialect of Xiamen, a port in southeast China. Apparently, sailors heard it from the beggars who hung around the ports, and mistook it as the word for a handout. Since then, U.S. sailors have given "cumshaw" its own unique application, for something obtained through unofficial means (whether deviously or simply ingeniously). Outside of naval circles, meanings of "cumshaw" range from a harmless gratuity or gift to bending the rules a little to outright bribery.
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