cum·​shaw ˈkəm-ˌshȯ How to pronounce cumshaw (audio)

Did you know?

It was probably British Navy personnel who first picked up cumshaw in Chinese ports, during the First Opium War of 1839. 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.

Examples of cumshaw in a Sentence

the clerk at Calcutta airport was clearly angling for a little cumshaw on the side the captain slipped the customs official his customary cumshaw at the Port of Shanghai

Word History


Chinese (Xiamen) kam siā grateful thanks

First Known Use

1839, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of cumshaw was in 1839


Dictionary Entries Near cumshaw

Cite this Entry

“Cumshaw.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Jul. 2024.

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