From Helen Brown’s latest Telegraph diary entry:

A new guide to English published this month by Oxford University Press reveals that writers’ names are edging their way into the vernacular in the most unexpected ways. According to The Language Report, by Susie Dent, “Seamus Heaney” is now rhyming slang for “bikini”.

(Via Maud Newton.)

Now, it occurs to me that rhyming slang usually drops the actual rhyming word, leaving the connection mysterious to the uninitiated: thus china plate = ‘mate’ was quickly reduced to china. If this happens here, the word for ‘bikini’ will be seamus, pronounced exactly like shamus ‘private eye,’ leading to yet more trans-Atlantic misunderstanding and adding to the lexicon available to hard-boiled mystery writers: “The shamus was leering at the seamus on the sheila selling sea-shells by the seashore…”


  1. Did anyone else read that word as sham-us the first time they saw it?

  2. commonbeauty says

    So, no respect, not even for Uncle Seamus?
    That’s the way the cookie crumbles…
    (by the way, I used to think “bikini” was pronounced “biKAYni”…I think I was confused by Yeats)

  3. And I used to think Heaney was pronounced HAYni – then they would rhyme.

  4. I think that’s the point cb was making, in a roundabout sort of way. Apparently Heaney himself says “heeney,” but the other is certainly a possible Irish pronunciation.

  5. irishkaz says

    tis pronounced shay-mes hee-knee

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