On Sunday I got a long-overdue haircut (no, this isn’t going to turn into an IM-like message on the moment-to-moment details of my life); I’d gotten much much too shaggy. In describing this to friends, I said that I’d gotten (satisfyingly) deshagged.

Deshagged would seem to imply a previous stage in which I was shagged, in the sexual sense. (I have in fact been shagged, often, though not for a very long time now.) But that’s not the way the morphology of deshag works.

There’s a collection of de– prefixes, but the most transparent use of de– has it combining with a noun base denoting X to yield a verb with the meaning ‘remove X from’, as in dehorn (dehorn the cattle) and degrease (degrease the drainpipes). This morphological construction is productive; you can easily use (and understand) novel verbs like deshrub ‘remove the shrubs from’ or degunk ‘remove  the gunk from’.

(Removal de– + N is in a complex competition with several other morphological constructions, most notably the direct verbing of N, as in pit ‘remove the pit(s) from’. Alas, famously, this nouning stands alongside another, which has the meaning ‘supply X to’: shell the nuts ‘remove the shells from the nuts’ but shell the walkway ‘cover the walkway with shells’.)

So deshag ‘remove the shag from’ is certainly possible, though the N shag ‘shagginess’ is not frequent; people are more likely to think of the N shag in shag carpet (which still comes, for some speakers, with a mildly salacious undertone, as if a shag carpet is a carpet on which people shag) or the N shag in shag (hair) cut, the name of a specific hairstyle (primarily for women).

Instead, deshag is understood here as something like ‘deshaggify’, that is, understood by reference to an adjective, shaggy, that is not present in the item deshag (compare this to a “pseudo-adjective” like electrical engineer, which is understood by reference to a noun not present in the item, in this case electricity).

[Note on the sexual verb shag. It comes very close to covering the territory of fuck in its core sexual uses, though not so easily in its displaced or extended uses, as in:

What the fuck are you doing? I don’t give a fuck. I don’t fucking care. Leslie is a fuck-up. Leslie fucked me over.

(But see the OED comments below.)

So Kim can shag Sandy, Kim and Sandy can shag like minks, Leslie can get shagged, and so on, but it’s odd to say that Leslie shagged me over, to ask what the shag Leslie is doing, and so on. Maybe there can be shag flicks, shag parties, and shag tools; this is probably a gray (or grey) area, subject to variation (and sheer invention).

Sexual shag was for some time primarily a British usage, though the success of the Austin Powers movies — in particular, the 1999 Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me — seems to have spread it. (The movie title was controversial in the U.K., occasioning rewording, asterisking out, and other strategies to avoid shag. It also presented puzzles for translators. See the “title censorship” section of the Wikipedia entry on the film.)]

[Etymological notes from OED2. The noun shag that leads to shag rug and the like is from Old English. The highlights of the story:

1.  a. Rough matted hair, wool, etc. rare or arch. [from c1050 on]

b. A mass of matted hair; also shreds (of bark). [from 1607]

c. The nap (esp. long and coarse) of cloth. [from a1661]

2. A cloth having a velvet nap on one side, usually of worsted, but sometimes of silk. Also, a kind or variety of this. [from 1592]

3. a. A garment, rug, or mat of shaggy material. [from 1634]

c. ellipt. A shag carpet or rug; shag pile. [from 1951]

4. Of carpets, rugs, etc.: having a long, rough, pile. Also shag pile. Cf. shaggy adj. [from 1946]

Quite separately, there are various verbs shag. Note especially v.3.2.

shag v.1 [of obscure origin]

a. trans. To toss about.

b. intr. To shake, waggle. [from c1380]

shag v.3 [of obscure origin; perhaps from shag v.1] coarse slang. 

1. trans. and intr. To copulate (with). [from 1770]

2. Used profanely in imprecations and exclamations. Cf. fuck v.4, shag v.4. [from 1933]

[shag off; go shag, shag you]

shag v.4 [origin unknown; possibly connected with shag v.1, but it’s not clear that these senses belong to the same verb]

1. intr. To make off; to wander aimlessly; to traipse. Freq. with advbs. slang.

When followed by off there is some overlap with sense 2 of shag v.3 [from 1851]

2. trans. To chase. Also const. up. spec. in Baseball, to go for or catch (fly balls). U.S. colloq. [from 1913]

Then there’s a sexual noun shag:

shag n.6 (from v.3) coarse slang.

a. An act of copulation. [from 1937]

The development of sexual shag (v.3) is something of a mystery.]


One Response to “deshagged”

  1. Alternatives to fuck « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] posted recently on the alternative shag (of obscure origin), I was moved yesterday to wonder about other […]

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