1590s, "cloth having a velvet nap on one side," perhaps ultimately from Old English sceacga "rough matted hair or wool," but the word seems to be missing in Middle English. The Old English word is from Proto-Germanic *skagjan (source also of Old Norse skegg, Swedish skägg "beard"), and perhaps related to Old High German scahho "promontory," Old Norse skagi "a cape, headland," with a connecting sense of "jutting out, projecting." Also compare shaw (n.).
The meaning "rough, matted hair, wool, or the like" is from c. 1600. Of a kind of strong tobacco cut in fine shreds, from 1789; of carpets, rugs, etc. made of cloth having a long nap, from 1946.
"copulate with," 1788 (Grose), probably from obsolete verb shag (Middle English shoggen, shaggen, late 14c.) "to shake, waggle," which is of obscure origin but probably related to or an alteration of shake (v.):
And þe boot, amydde þe water, was shaggid. [Wycliffite sermon, c. 1425]
Compare shag (v.), used from 1610s in a sense "to roughen or make shaggy," from the noun shag. Also compare shake it in U.S. blues slang from 1920s, ostensibly with reference to dancing. It also was the name of a dance popular in U.S. in the 1930s and '40s. Related: Shagged; shagging.
in baseball, "to go after and catch" (fly balls), by 1913, of uncertain origin. Century Dictionary has this as a secondary sense of shag (v.) "to rove about as a stroller or beggar" (1851), which is perhaps from shack (n.) "disreputable fellow" (1680s), short for shake-rag, an old term for a beggar. But OED notes "it is not even certain that" the two verbs shag are the same.
updated on July 22, 2022