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Caricature from Nevill's booklet

A Visit to the Turkish bath / by Low and Terry [ie, David Low and Horace Thorogood]. — London : Nevill's Baths, c.1950

The original meaning of 'to shampoo' was to give someone, or part of that person's body, a massage.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word—probably from the Hindi, to press—is now rarely used in this sense except when referring to part of the process of a Turkish bath. (The modern sense of the word referring to washing one's hair is not much older than 1860).

The Illustrated London News (26 July 1862) describes a shampoo at the newly opened London Hammam:

As soon as the skin of the bather exhibits a flow of gentle perspiration a tellak, or bathman, commences the manipulation which characterises the native tellak. We are conscious immediately that Eastern hands are upon us, although not perhaps aware of the fact that the company have for their head bathman an experienced Armenian, by name Youssouf, from Turkey. We are softly handled instead of being violently pinched. The bathman follows the line of muscles with 'anatomical thumb' to render them supple and to ascertain that they are so before the next operations are proceeded with. With a camel's-hair glove on his hand he sweeps over every inch of the body from the neck to the heels, starting the skin and planing it off in successive rolls, his dextrous hand missing no portion of the body. Legs and arms are cleared of every superfluity. Every part of your body is then cracked with surprising skill—an alarming operation to a novice, but a perfectly safe and necessary one when performed by experienced tellaks.


This page last updated 22 September 2016

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