First off, I discovered that my pronunciation of this term (as SHAY-muhs) is apparently not the primary choice of linguists. Click here for the preferred articulation.
And here’s the rest of today’s A.Word.A.Day write-up on “shamus”:
MEANING:I guess you really can learn something new every day.
1. A private detective.
2. A police officer.
Perhaps from Yiddish shames/shammes (sexton, a caretaker at a synagogue), from Hebrew shamash (servant). The spelling of the word has altered from the influence of the Celtic name Seamus (equivalent to James) as many police officers in the U.S. at the time, especially in New York, were Irish. First recorded use: 1925.
“A private eye is expected to be whip-smart and tough as nails, but if the guy isn’t likable, he’s D.O.A. as a genre hero. So it’s nice to note that Vlodek Elstrom (known as Dek), a shamus from a tumbledown town in northern Illinois who was introduced by Jack Fredrickson in ‘A Safe Place for Dying,’ has lost none of his initial appeal in its sequel ...” Marilyn Stasio, “A Need for Noir,” The New York Times, Jan. 23, 2009.*
* This quotation has been changed to be in accordance with its original appearance. Wordsmith.org shortened the excerpt in a rather confusing way.