free of charge, gift, gratuity, small bribe

I’ve heard the idea that buckshee is Cockney rhyming slang for “free.” However, this is incorrect. The word is Persian in origin, the word “baksheesh” meaning a gratuity or a tip to expedite service.

The word has been in use since the mid-1700s, and much more widely adopted and popularized by the British army operating in the Middle-Eastern and Indian territories in WWI and WWII. The early British usage would have been bakshee or backshee, but by the 1900s, it had evolved into buckshee. It refers to anything free, and has been used as slang in other ways, mostly relating to army use, including: a light wound; a paymaster (also ‘buckshee king’), and a greedy soldier at mealtimes.

Here are some verses from a poem/song “Buckshee” by Billy Bennett:

Buckshee, buckshee,
And the girl that lives opposite me
She’s quite a smart bird though her people are poor
She picked up a bloke in the Army Pay Corps
And now she’s got diamonds and sables galore
D’yer see, buckshee.

Buckshee, buckshee,
It means something for nothing, you see
Just take the Australian soldier so grand
They each had a wife in their own native land
And they’ve married again to have one close at hand
D’yer see, buckshee.

Buckshee, buckshee,
So I said, “Lizzy, listen to me
When I left old England the kids numbered nine
But now there’s eleven, they’re all in a line.”
The missis said, “Yes dear, there’s nine yours and mine
And two — to tea.”

My father, who was in WWI, used the word, but I rarely hear it now. Too bad, because it’s a word that has rhythm, or perhaps just suggests it.

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