I thought that Webster's definition of this multifaceted verb/noun could do with a 21st century update, so I done me some research!

The use of the word 'shag' as a means to express sexual coupling has been brought into the international arena through the Austin Powers movies having previously been reserved for use by Brits, American anglophiles and all lovers of British low comedy.

This use of the word has been accused of being infantile and crude by the moral majority. However, the truly highbrow among us will know that it has been used frequently in the works of such a luminary as Kingsley Amis.

The common dictionary definitions of the word 'shag' include; 'a rough surface', 'a fabric with a nap', 'a hopping dance step' or 'a finely cut tobacco' - but these uses appear to have been usurped by Power's favoured definition.

The word shag appears in Old English as 'sceacga', meaning 'hair' leading eventually to all those rough materials.

The origins of the word elsewhere can be traced back to interpretations from the bible. It began life as a variant of 'shake'. When Jesus walks on water, in our bible, he does so to reach the disciples' boat 'tossed on the waves, however in Wycliffes version c.1380 the boat is 'shoggid with waves'. This shaking probably led to the naming of the American hopping dance of the same name popular in the 1930's but was used to describe the physical act of love way earlier.

It in fact appears in Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue in 1788 - defined as 'to copulate'

Shagadelic Baby - Yeeeeeaaaahh!

Combining both British and American forms of English means that "shag" becomes an incredibly versatile word:

So in theory, if one were dancing on an expensive carpet, whilst smoking a hand-rolled cigarette and watching a television wildlife documentary about the mating habits of sea-birds, one could be said to be:

Shagging on the shag, smoking shag, watching shags shagging

Isn't English a wonderful language!

I didn't believe it myself until I saw it at the Sports Authority, but there is a device for picking up golf balls called a Golf Ball Shagger. The idea behind this device is it allows you to pick up lots of golf balls without getting a sore back from bending over. This device is a metal-frame-reinforced cylinder-shaped bag with a handle on top and a retractable metal pipe on the bottom. You "shag" golf balls by walking with this device and placing the pipe on a golf ball. The end of the pipe has small metal clips that only allow golf balls to pass one way, so they can't fall back out. Eventually, the bag gets full or you run out of golf balls to pick up. To empty the device, you simply unzip the bag.

(American slang:)
To retrieve, usually in an unhurried or lackadaisical manner.

For example, the golf ball shagger mentioned above is a device to aid in the retrieval of golf balls. Similar devices exist for tennis balls. I recently overheard a grocery store manager telling an employee to "go out into the parking lot and shag some carts." Not knowing (or recalling) the British usage (see iain's writeup above if you're unfamiliar with it), neither supervisor nor underling found anything unusual in their dialogue, but I had to chuckle.

The best known instance of this American usage of shag comes from baseball. During batting practice, many balls are hit into the outfield and must be retrieved. Since the balls are usually hit on the fly, they're called "fly balls" or simply "flies." The resulting expression "shagging flies" seems perfectly innocuous to the average baseball player assigned to the task, but quite hilarious to someone with a different mental picture of the activity.

Shag (?), n. [AS. sceacga a bush of hair; akin to Icel. skegg the beard, Sw. skagg, Dan. skjg. Cf. Schock of hair.]

1.

Coarse hair or nap; rough, woolly hair.

True Witney broadcloth, with its shag unshorn. Gay.

2.

A kind of cloth having a long, coarse nap.

3. Com.

A kind of prepared tobacco cut fine.

4. Zool.

Any species of cormorant.

 

© Webster 1913.


Shag, a.

Hairy; shaggy.

Shak.

 

© Webster 1913.


Shag, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Shagged (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Shagging.]

To make hairy or shaggy; hence, to make rough.

Shag the green zone that bounds the boreal skies. J. Barlow.

<-- (Sport) To chase, as (a) to chase and return balls hit out of bounds. (b) (Baseball) to catch fly balls for practise. -->

 

© Webster 1913.

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