• noun a Jew. The term appeared in Britain in the early 19th century when it did not necessarily have the offensive racist overtones it acquired in the 20th century. Many possible etymologies have been proposed for sheeny: the three most plausible are the German word schön (beautiful) as applied either to their children or to merchandise by Jews, the ‘sheen’ of dark hair or skin as perceived by Anglo-Saxons, or the Yiddish phrase a miesse meshina (‘an ugly fate or death’), a phrase supposedly common among Jews.