M. Pickwick addressing the club

M. Pickwick addressing the club – original illustration by Robert Seymour (1798-1836) for The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, published in 1837



The verb to shampoo is from Hindi cāṃpo!, press!, imperative of cāṃpnā.


It originally meant to subject a person to massage. It first appeared as a noun in the form champing, for shampooing, denoting the process of massaging.

The word and the process were first recorded by the British merchant trader, traveller and writer Peter Mundy (floruit 1608-67). During his journey from Agra to Puttana on the borders of Bengal, he stopped at Etaya (Etāwa) on 12th August 1632:


The Barbers of this place are much spoken of for their neatenesse in Shaveinge and artificiall Champinge. The latter is a kinde of Custome used all India over, att tyme of rest especiallye, which is to have their bodies handled as wee knead in England, but this is with gripeing their hands; and soe they will goe all over a mans body as hee lyes along, vizt. Armes, shoulders, back, thighes, leggs, feete and hands.
Then will they pull and winde you in such manner that they will almost make every Joint to crack, but without paine. Then will they dobb you, which is thumpinge with their fists (as Children beat upon a board when they would imitate a Drumme). This they doe a long tyme together, varyinge from one tyme to an other; and this is here accompted to bee verie healthfull. Also the oyle of Chambelee of this place is much esteemed for goodnes and Cheapnes, with which men, but especially weomen, annoynt their heads dayly, and their bodies when they wash (which is verie often); accompted also verie wholsome.

In December 1698, the physician and collector Hans Sloane (1660-1753) described in Philosophical Transactions the contents of a China cabinet sent to the Royal Society of London for the Advancement of Natural Knowledge by Mr Buckly, chief surgeon at Fort St. George in the East Indies:

A kind of Instrument, called, in China, a Champing Instrument. Its use is to be rub’d or roul’d over the Muscular Flesh. It is like an Horses Curricomb, and is said to be used after the same manner, and for the same Purposes that they are made use for Horses.

The form shampooing is first attested in a book published in 1762, A Voyage to the East Indies in 1747 and 1748, written by “an officer in the service of the East India Company”. In An Account of Canton, the author told how he underwent the operation:

Shampooing is an operation not known in Europe, and is peculiar to the Chinese, which I had once the curiosity to go through, and for which I paid but a trifle. However, had I not seen several China merchants shampooed before me, I should have been very apprehensive of danger, even at the sight of all the different instruments that were arranged in proper order on the table before the operator began. He first placed me in a large chair; then began to beat with both his hands very fast upon all parts of my body. He next stretched out my arms and legs, and gave them several sudden pulls that racked my joints; then got my arm upon his shoulder, and hauled me sideways a good way over the chair; and as suddenly gave my head a twitch or jerk round, that I thought he should have put my neck out of joint. Next he beat with the ends of his fingers very softly, but very quickly, all over my head, body and legs, every now and then cracking his fingers with an air; then he stroaked [sic] up my ears, temples and eye-lashes; and again racked my joints. After he had gone through this process, he proceeded with his instruments to scrape, pick and syringe my ears, every now and then tinkling with an instrument close to my ears. The next thing was my eyes, into which I patiently suffered several small instruments to be thrust and turned about; by which operation, he brought away half a teacupful of hot, waterish stuff. This was not only the most painful, but the most dangerous part of the whole operation, which made me afraid to make the least motion with my head, lest I should have suffered more; so I sat with resolute patience, till he pulled out these instruments, and was about to use others to my eyes; but I had already suffered so much, that I would not permit him to meddle with them any farther. He next proceeded to scraping, paring and cleaning the nails of my fingers and toes, and then to cutting my corns. I only wanted to have had a lock of hair plaited, to complete the operation. But, after he had spent half an hour with me, it ended here, for which I gave him to the value of a penny. He departed well satisfied, and afterwards called several mornings. But I would never undergo the operation; for he had hurt my eyes so much, that my sight was somewhat impaired for a long while after.


The verb was used figuratively for example by Charles Dickens (1812-70) in The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, published in 1837. Samuel Pickwick, Nathaniel Winkle, Augustus Snodgrass and Tracy Tupman come back to Manor Farm with “torn clothes, lacerated faces, dusty shoes, exhausted looks”:

One of the men suddenly seizing Mr. Pickwick by the leg, at the imminent hazard of throwing him off his balance, brushed away at his boot, till his corns were red-hot; while the other shampoo’d Mr Winkle with a heavy clothes brush, indulging, during the operation, in that hissing sound, which hostlers are wont to produce, when engaged in rubbing down a horse.


The ordinary modern sense of the verb to shampoo, to wash the hair, was first recorded in 1860 in An Elementary Dictionary of the English Language – A new edition, revised and enlarged, by the American lexicographer and author Joseph Emerson Worcester (1784-1865):

Shampoo: to rub and press the limbs and muscles after warm bathing, &c. :―to rub the head.

The American encyclopaedic dictionary The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia (1889-91) thus defined to shampoo:

1. To rub and percuss the whole surface of (the body), and at the same time to extend the limbs and rack the joints, in connection with a hot bath, for the purpose of restoring tone and vigor to the system: a practice introduced from the East. Such kneading and rubbing of the whole body is now commonly called massage. Also used figuratively.
2. To lather, wash, and rub or brush (the head) thoroughly.


In the late 19th century, French borrowed shampooing as a masculine noun meaning both the process of washing the hair and the liquid preparation used for this process. From this Anglicism, French has coined the verb shampooiner, also spelt shampouiner, meaning to shampoo, and the noun shampooineur, feminine shampooineuse, also shampouineur/-euse, denoting a (usually trainee) hairdresser who washes hair.

The feminine noun shampooineuse, or shampouineuse, also denotes a machine used to shampoo carpets.

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