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shim·my (shĭmē)
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n. pl. shim·mies
1. Abnormal vibration or wobbling, as of the wheels of an automobile.
2. A dance popular in the 1920s, characterized by rapid shaking of the body.
3. A chemise.
intr.v. shim·mied, shim·my·ing, shim·mies
1. To vibrate or wobble abnormally.
2. To shake the body in or as if in dancing the shimmy.
3. To shinny. See Usage note below.

[Perhaps from shimmy, alteration of CHEMISE.]

Usage Note: The shimmy is a dance that was popular in the 1920s and is characterized by rapid shaking of the body. To shimmy means "to shake the body in or as if in dancing the shimmy." Shimmy, possibly an alteration of the word chemise, has no etymological connection to the similar-sounding verb shinny, meaning "to climb by gripping and pulling alternately with the hands and legs." Recently, however, the verb shimmy has been used to describe the action of shinnying. In addition to their similarity in sound, the motions described by both verbs involve back-and-forth movements of the body. It's understandable, then, how this new sense of shimmy arose, and it has gained marginal acceptance by our Usage Panel. In our 2015 survey, 53 percent of the Panelists accepted the sentence Tania shimmied up the tree and picked some apples. Interestingly, only 66 percent of the Panelists accepted the use of shinny in the same sentence, suggesting that there remains confusion even among wordsmiths over which is the most appropriate word choice to describe this type of climbing. However, when it comes to the use of shinny (traditionally "to climb") in place of shimmy (traditionally "to dance"), the Panelists are resolute in holding to the traditional meanings, with 97 percent finding the use of shinny in the sentence The couple shinnied on the dance floor to the samba music unacceptable.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 

Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices

    Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

    Indo-European Roots

    Semitic Roots

    The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.

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