• shebeen •
shi-been • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. An unlicensed drinking establishment, often a ramshackle shack, especially in Scotland, Ireland, and South Africa. 2. A drinking party in the same three countries.
Notes: Shebeens range from the trustworthy, serving regular alcoholic drinks on which no tax has been paid, to shabby ones whose customers are served homemade moonshine and don't know what they may be drinking. A person who frequents shebeens is known as a shebeener, and the activity of shebeeners is called shebeening. A woman who runs a shebeen has sometimes been called a shebeen queen.
In Play: The shabby South African shebeens are likely to serve homemade brew called 'mampoer', which is 'as likely to contain battery acid as ethanol', according to today's contributor: "The pub crawlers' visit to the shebeen was an unforgettable experience due to the ensuing week-long hangover." Shebeens in South Africa usually produce a lot of noise: "The party next door was so boisterous into the early hours that I worried they had opened a shebeen."
Word History: Today's word comes from Irish Gaelic séibín "small mug, bottle, bad ale", a diminutive of séibe "mug, bottle". The word immigrated to South African and West Indian English, where it set up shop and has thrived to this day. The ending is Irish -ín as in caubeen (Irish beret) and colleen. It has been conjectured that the word was derived by adding this suffix to Irish siapa "shop"; however, such a derivation is problematic enough to discourage pursuing it. (Today's Good Word comes from our old South African friend Chris Stewart, who was also kind enough to supply the examples above.)
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