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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Show comments
  • mikewaller

    “Why break a butterfly upon a wheel?”

    As for the derivation of “ream”, it may have come from the process of removing the old caulking before putting in the new, but in very short order it was being applied to widening a hole, usually in metal. Indeed, there are tools called reamers specifically design for this purpose. And this, it seems to me, is much more likely to be the source of the sexual analogy. Nor do I believe the latter was applied exclusively to anal intercourse. My experience has been that among men with an engineering background the term is applied to all forms of penetrative sex regardless of the participants’ gender or the orifice concerned.

    • greggf

      Pretty much so mike, although rather than widening to ream more accurately (at least in the Midlands) means to clean out a drilled hole making its surface smooth for insertion of… whatever!

      • mikewaller

        They were also used on gun barrels, cylinders or whatever when use had made the existing hole less than perfect and a much better effect could be achieved with larger diameter (plus, of course, a larger projectile, piston etc.). One would also ream out a hole when a larger bolt was considered more desirable or that was what came most readily to hand.

        • mctruck

          Nearly there.
          In Engineering terms, a hole that is reamed is more accurately sized than one that is drilled. For a loose fit, such as would suit a through hole for an assembly bolt, a plan might specify “drill 10mm”; the hole should be at least 10mm but not more than, say, 10.5mm. If the instruction is “drill and ream 10.0mm”, it will be drilled initially to less than 10mm, then reamed out to between 9.95 and 10.05 mm.

          The limit of accuracy in traditional machining is about one ten-thousandth of an inch, or 0.0025mm; careful reaming with accurate tools can achieve this.

  • Malus Pudor


  • Jackthesmilingblack

    A paper ream is a package of 500 sheets of paper.

    • Ed  

      … and every one blank.

  • AJH1968

    The producers of reality TV should be crucified, I will gladly bring the nails and a picnic basket.

  • Jane Martinsford

    To the best of my knowledge, the word ‘ream’ meaning ‘cool’ was made up in the summer of 1986 by Andy Norton – a Chappell Music Management Accountant from Shepton Mallet. Those of you living in London at this time, and with good memories, will remember that orange tops – shirts, jumpers, you name it, were all the rage. They were everywhere. Likewise, people were sheepishly using whatever ‘in’ word was the word of the moment. Young people in London wanted to be in with the in crowd, as the UK transformed economically from the stagnation of the 1970s. Andy found this herd mentality hilarious and said he wanted to see if he could spread a random word to replace ‘cool’. He pondered for a couple of seconds, picked up a packet of photocopy paper and announced the word would be ‘ream’. I don’t remember the name of Andy’s brother-in-law, but he was a senior manager at Schroders and lived in Chester Gate NW1. For a laugh, and for experimental purposes, Andy’s brother-in-law agreed that he would get his staff at Schroders in on the experiment to see how far they could spread the word ‘ream’ around the City …

  • AJH1968

    I think I know the meaning of the word reem; If a bogfly should fly into say the left ear of Joey Essex and exit he’s right ear, or vice versa, you could say he has been reemed. The action of the bogfly naturally is to reem (that is to fly through the ears of a dimwit).

  • Linda Miller


  • Jim

    It’s a matter of regret that I chose to read this whilst eating dinner.

    • ButcombeMan

      It is matter of regret that I chose to read this-at all.

    • EnosBurrows

      Were you tossing salad?

  • mathias broucek

    I had a holiday job in a warehouse in 1986. “Reem” was the common term for good/cool.
    The opposite was “demic” which meant broken/rubbish etc.

  • q-pantagruel

    I saw Joey Essex on This Week with Andrew Neil a few weeks ago. He doesn’t know anything about politics because he was only 19 but now he’s 24 and still doesn’t really know and didn’t know who David Cameron was until a few weeks ago. He described “Ed” as nice. Neil: “so you’re on first name terms with the leader of the opposition..” Essex: “Pardon?” Neil & Portillo in chorus: “first name terms”. Essex “I don’t know what that is.” They explain. Essex: “I called him Ed, innit – red Ed”. Portillo: “Do you know what red means?” “I dunno, it’s their colour, innit?”, Neil: “In this country it means left-wing” Essex: “I don’t know much about these wings.”

    Uhmmm…I think there is some serious cheek tonguing here. I certainly hope so. The This Week team all took him at his word though with Miranda Green & David Lammy displaying patronising sympathy and understanding. Hat’s off to Portillo who at least didn’t buy his “I’m disconnected, ignorant and proud of it” ruse but called him on it saying “it’s your duty to know”.

    If Joey Essex really is a representative example of today’s youf, we need to seriously re-examine the notion of lowering the voting age.