Monday, March 23, 2015

Apple #706: Shampoo

I would like you to think about the word "shampoo" for a moment or two.  Say it out loud, slowly.  Sham poo.

This is the stuff we put in our hair?  To clean it?  Oh, I don't want the real poo, only the fake poo will do for me.  Who came up with this word?  Who in their right mind thought this was a good idea?  And why did we all go along with it?

A word-origins mystery in need of a Daily Apple if ever there was one.

Confidently Clean / Sham Poo.  Seems like an oxymoron, doesn't it?
(Photo from somewhere on this page: Aussie Moist Shampoo 13.5 Fl Oz (Pack of 6))

  • I blame the Brits.
  • The Oxford English Dictionary folks think that shampoo comes from the Hindi word chāmpo (sometimes it's spelled cāmpo, but the c should have a horizontal line above it, which means the c is pronounced ch).
  • This Hindi word chāmpo means "to press" as in "to massage."
  • The OED further elucidates the definition by giving an obsolete definition "as designating a part of the process of a Turkish bath."
  • Because, you know, India, Turkey, same thing.

An Ayurvedic massage today, including knotted towels soaked in a mixture of rice and warm milk. Perhaps this is similar to the original meaning of chāmpo?
(Screenshot from a video showing the entirety of the massage, which begins with a head massage. Warning: once the guy stops talking and the massage starts, it's very hypnotic. From

  • Reading the instances when the OED found uses of the word in its earliest appearances, it does look as though a bunch of British guys were referring to a practice that was probably massage -- and misspelling the Hindi word in a phonetic English way.
    • The first instance where they found shampoo being used was from 1762, from a text called Voyage of the East Indies (or something like that; there's a lot of abbreviation). The sentence is "Had I not seen several Chinese merchants shampooed before me, I should have been apprehensive of danger."  
      • Meaning, I suppose, that if a bunch of Chinese guys get shampooed (or chāmpo-ed) and come through it safely, then it must be safe for the British guy, too.
    • One instance in 1813 actually got the spelling closer to the Hindi: "She [a Mahratta wife] first champoes her husband and fans him to repose; she then champoes the horse."
      • Ahem.
    • This sentence, from 1829, gets very specific, and it's clear that what's meant is massage: "In the East Indies, friction with the hand, or what is called champouing, is generally practiced."
    • Or this one, from 1869, also clearly describes massage: "Shampoeing [sic] may be compared to a gentle kneading of the whole person." 
    • This, going back in time to 1823, is specific, though racially uncomfortable: "We had long ago seen negroes employed in percussion upon their Barbadean masters, by whom it is termed 'Champooing.'"
    • This one, from Jean A. Owen in a book about Hawaii, where he or she is talking about Tahiti, where some Hindi people do live: "In Tahiti, too, a traveler, on entering a house is always given a mat to lie on, and his weary limbs are shampooed whilst food is prepared for him."
      • sounds like an especially nice welcome.

"Indian head massage," as practiced by a clinic in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, UK. A depiction of one of the earlier meanings of shampoo?
(Photo from Real Ease in the UK)

  • In other instances, from memoirs of travels to the Indies or letters about trips there and things of that nature, it's not entirely clear what's happening during the ch/shampooing, if it's massage or hair-washing, or what.  
    • Dickens, from Pickwick Papers: "The other shampoo'ed Mr. Winkle with a heavy clothes-brush."
      • seems more likely that he means the massage definition.
    • Thackeray, from Vanity Fair: "Pinching the bed-curtains, poking into the feathers, shampooing the mattresses."
      • since the other two actions involve manual pressure, probably the shampooing does too, but perhaps washing could also be meant.
    • Here's an even more interesting one, from someone named Haliburton (with one el) in 1838: "So our diplomatists shampoo the English, and put 'em to sleep."

Shampooing today
(Photo from eHow)

  • But over time, by 1860, the English word came to mean only the massaging of the head & washing the hair.
    • "The patient should have . . . the hair cut and shampooed, and the whole body well cleansed with carbolic soap." (1881)
    • "Brilliant with gas, and redolent of rich perfume, are the modern shampooing salons." (1881)
  • And now, just for funsies, here's one final use of the word "shampoo," submitted without comment:
    • "the shampooed body . . . is rubbed all over with a preparation of soap confined in a bag, till he is one mass of lather." (1821)
      • oh, wait. I do have a comment. I think that's a lot like what's depicted in that video of Ayurvedic massage.  Seriously.

The next time your shampoo your hair, remember these two things:
  1. champou, not shampoo
  2. it's as much about the massage as it is about the product.  
I bet you'll enjoy washing your hair more than usual.


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