The American Heritage Dictionary states that the origins of "sheeny," a pejorative slang word for a Jew, are unknown. As a Jew, I am interested in finding out where and when this word developed. Any clues?
I found sheeny used as a group definition in 1797:
SHEEN, ſhe'n. 7 a. Bright, glit- SHEENY, (he'n-y. 3 tering, ſhowy.
SHEEP, ſce'p. f. The animal that bears wool ; a fooliſh ſilly fellow.
— A complete dictionary of the English language, both with regard to sound and meaning: . . . but not a antisemitic reference; notably, the negative connotation is that ‘sheepbiter' was a thief, and ‘sheepbite’ was petty theft.
By 1891, The American Slang Dictionary, by James Maitland defined
Sheeny, a Jew. The origin of the word is much disputed.
Published in Wisps of Wit and Wisdom, 1892:
- — How did the term,"Sheeny," originate? As a result of the kindness shown to them, by the nations among whom they lived during the Middle Ages, the Jews, out of love for their neighbors, came to use as a benediction, salutation, valediction or malediction, the fervent wish, “Misah Meshina!’ (“Mayst thou die one of the five judicial deaths!”) Thus, a German baron pulling out the rabbi’s beard was prayed for by the whole congregation that he might take a Misah Meshina. The use of this curse became common to the extent that it was used on the slightest provocation, and the English, catching the terminal sound from the same class of people, constantly used it, or its corruption, “Sheeny,” to designate them in slang phrase.
OED says "sheeny" is of obscure origin, with a first reference referring to Jews in 1824, and other references from 1828 and 1893 (none of them obviously pejorative), and an 1888 Kipling reference where it is used as part of an insult.
They relate it to a Russian word (which I can't transcribe, so photo below) and then Polish and Czech words "zid" for a Jew.
Here is an essay on the subject, which disagrees with the OED.