• noun a sexual act or a sexual partner. See the verb form for origins.
  • noun a term of endearment in use among London financial traders in 2000, probably from earlier public-school usage
  • verb to depart, leave. The 1990s use of the term, which may be related to earlier uses of the word to denote a fast jitterbug-style dance or later a reluctant, shuffling walk, also occurs in the phrase ‘shag off/out’. By the 18th century shag had come to mean ‘move quickly’ in American speech.

Origin & History of “shag”

Shag originally meant ‘rough untidy hair’, a sense now more familiar in its derivative shaggy (16th c.). Related Old Norse forms such as skegg ‘beard’, skagi ‘promontory’, and skaga ‘project’ suggest that its underlying meaning is ‘something that sticks out’. The bird-name shag, which denotes a relative of the cormorant and was first recorded in the 16th century, may be an allusion to the bird’s shaggy crest. The origins of the verb shag ‘copulate with’, which dates from the late 18th century, are not known, although it may be distantly related to shake.