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

Definition of cumshaw

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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. 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

First Known Use of cumshaw

1839, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for cumshaw

Chinese (Xiamen) kam siā grateful thanks

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The first known use of cumshaw was in 1839

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Cite this Entry

“Cumshaw.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 Jan. 2022.

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