Jewish Word | Shamash

n the 1946 film The Big Sleep, based on the Raymond Chandler mystery of the same name, Carmen—the promiscuous, drug-addicted younger sister of Lauren Bacall’s character—sizes up Philip Marlowe, played by Humphrey Bogart, and asks him, “What are you, a prizefighter?” Bogart responds, “No, I’m a shamus.” “What’s a shamus?” she inquires. “It’s a private detective,” he answers. Yes, Bogart is using the Yiddish version—more popularly spelled “shammes”—of the Hebrew word, “shamash.”

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A Short History of Little Words

It’s hard to escape the OMGs and LOLs  of today, but don’t blame millennials—acronyms actually originated thousands of years ago with the development of the ancient Hebrew alphabet. Around the 10th century BCE, Hebrew letters emerged out of ideographic pictures and, soon after, groups of letters started to be used in place of frequently recurring words.

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