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Mind your language

Does Joey Essex know what ‘reem’ actually means?

Its history is long — and not entirely pleasant

22 November 2014

9:00 AM

22 November 2014

9:00 AM

Joey Essex is a celebrity who appeared in the ‘scripted reality’ programme The Only Way is Essex, named not after him but the well-known county. He is 24, born in Southwark, and his main attractions are good looks, cheerfulness and stupidity. He claims never to have learnt to tell the time or to blow his nose.

Now he has published a book called Being Reem. Reem is one of the slang words he has popularised. On a chat show he seemed not to remember what they all meant, but that might have been part of the act. Indeed I wonder if he is not having a laugh on us with the title of his book.


To Joey Essex, reem means ‘brilliant, good, cool, fashionable’. Could reem really derive from ream? Reaming in the 17th century meant ‘opening a seam in a ship to facilitate caulking’. Since at least the 1940s, to ream has meant ‘to penetrate in an act of anal intercourse’. It would have been a term familiar to John Sparrow, the late Warden of All Souls, who wrote a brilliant essay in Encounter, after the Lady Chatterley trial, pointing out that, for all the witnesses’ talk of literature and holy love, this act had occurred in the book.

Another verb, meaning ‘to enlarge a hole’, is rim, which lexicographers take to be ream with a shortened vowel. But the Oxford English Dictionary lists the verb rim separately, with the meaning ‘to lick the anus’. Sorry about that. W.H. Auden used it in a poem he apparently wrote in 1948, but I don’t recommend it. I imagine most people think this verb is derived from rim ‘edge’, but ream seems a likelier source.

There is just a chance that Joey does not have his tongue, as it were, firmly in his cheek. Yet another word ream means ‘cream’, not as an abbreviation, but as an old word related to the German Rahm. This, philologists speculate, may have given rise to the slang ream ‘genuine’, which has, in a similar way to pukka, developed the sense ‘excellent’. We could ask Joey what he had in mind — if it would be any use.


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