shampoo

It’s hard to see this word without thinking of rich suds being rubbed into your hair – or into the long, lush hair of some model on a TV commercial. Or just maybe into a carpet. There is nonetheless a clear taste of the sham in the beginning and of the poo in the end, neither a very pleasant thing by itself (although sham also has fabric senses), and combined seeming to refer to scam scat. Few people are likely to think of champagne too quickly, in spite of the bubbles and the identical first four phonemes, because of the different images of ch (in the French style) and sh. What they will think of, and mention, quite often is conditioner. This word has even been borrowed from English to French – but in the gerund form, shampooing. That oo [u] is quite atypical for French! But, now, this word in English is both a verb and a noun. Which came first, and where did it come from? Well, there’s the rub. Or, to be more exact, there’s the “Rub!” The Hindi imperative of “rub” – or, more correctly, “press” – is campo (“chaampo”). This is the verb that was used for massaging. So if your muscles got a good rubbing, this is the word that came with it, and by the mid-19th century we were using shampoo in English to refer specifically to massaging the head and hair with soap. Why did the initial affricate become a fricative? I like to think that the smoothness of the sh seemed more apropos, and the oo is also smooth and mousse-like. Pity that it didn’t stay with the [o], though – then the choices for a messy head could be shampo or chapeau.

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