Updated: Mar 25, 2020
Does it matter, so long as you love your noir?
Just days ago I was listening through the post-production audiobook of Shamus Dust, thinking about some excerpts for the website. No question, it was thrilling, but also strange to hear the story narrated for the first time in a voice other than the one I keep in my head. John Reilly reads a marvelous private eye, and I don’t have a native ear for American English, so for me there was the added surprise (and pleasure) of occasional cadences and stress patterns that don’t fall quite in the way I imagined them. It was fascinating to listen. And then, more than halfway through, I heard these two sentences. They make the epigraph for the book: “She said, How on earth did he get here? As if all you ever do is sprinkle shamus dust and the police suspect of the year floats in”. John reads shamus as shaymus. I do myself. But as explained, mine isn’t an American ear. Then I thought, Wait! In the film of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, doesn’t the shamus himself - Bogart, no less - say shahmus? Well, I watched the movie again (any excuse will do) and yes, as a matter of fact he does. So what goes on? Is there a demographic at work? Does it depend on movies you watched in formative years? And what do you say? Shaymus or Shahmus? I’d be very pleased to hear. Also pleased to hear how it’s said in any film you can think of. Meanwhile, here’s an explanation of the root of the word and its two pronunciations. And of how, in the end, the choice is entirely yours. https://forward.com/articles/5064/bogie-speaks-yiddish/