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Theory, by Irish foghlaimeoir (learner)[edit]

I have read in various locations (inc. OED) that this word was first coined in California in the 1850s. Perfectly possible that there will have been Irish speakers there and then, of course. However, it does not strike me as plausible that it comes from sionnachuighm (Irish, to play the fox) as the pronunciation is too far removed. My theory is that this is an English-speaker's reaction to hearing Irish being spoken. Perhaps the most fascinating example of this phenomenon is the song Lili-Bulero, most of which consists of apparent nonsense words, but when you learn that this song was created by the Protestant non-Irish soldiers during the Williamite wars of the 1690s, it becomes clear that the nonsense is in fact a "parody" of what the uncomprehended Irish language (of their opponents) sounded like to their ears. I suggest therefore that "shenanigans" is a conflation of two things: a parody of how Irish words sound, and a reflection of the prejudice about Irishmen getting together in "cabals" and plotting "schemes" to swindle whoever (Englishmen, presumably). I can't prove any of the above, but it makes sense. The word loses none of its power, if this theory is correct, but it does perhaps become a bit imbued with possibly reprehensible anti-Irish stereotyping...

Presenting your information as original research has effectively preordained that it will never see the light of day. 12:06, 8 October 2013 (UTC)


"German slang: schinäglen" Sorry, that's totally wrong, ("shenanigan" so to speak). There's no such word in German language. 12:13, 16 June 2008 (UTC)

See OEtyD. DCDuring TALK 13:49, 17 June 2008 (UTC)

what i could imagine is that someone meant the word 'schinden' which actually does mean 'work' but does not sound like shenanigan at all...

Of course there is (See Pfälzisches Wörterbuch) Ba'el 09:55, 10 February 2011 (UTC)

South Park[edit]

Was this first used on South Park? DavidFarmbrough 04:37, 21 April 2009 (UTC)

No, it's a much, much older word than that. 11:50, 14 April 2012 (UTC)
I suspect that the concept of declaring shenanigans (i.e. accusing someone of intentional deception) originated with South Park. Obviously the concept of "shenanigans" as a synonym for hijinks or mischief is verifiably much older. -- RealGrouchy (talk) 01:06, 30 March 2014 (UTC)

Sounds Chinese[edit]

Around 1850 many chinatowns were raised in west of the usa. Including the San Francisco Chinatown, which of course is in california.

是难你赶 "Shi nan ni gan" means it's hard to catch you in chinese. but a "catch" like in catch something moving away.

是难你敢 "Shi nan ni gan" means it's difficult you dare which could be a part of a sentece. this difficult has also a meaning like unpleasant.

真难你敢 "zhen nan ni gan" would mean "Sad to say you do" which would only make sense in something that follows this sentence.

Anyhow - there are tons of chinese sentences that could contain a part that sounds like shenanigan.

RFV discussion: November 2013–September 2014[edit]

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The following discussion has been moved from Wiktionary:Requests for verification (permalink).

This discussion is no longer live and is left here as an archive. Please do not modify this conversation, but feel free to discuss its conclusions.

There are no citations and the usage examples are in the plural only. If we are going to have a singular entry for what is in most folks' current English a plural-only noun, we should have citations for each sense in the singular. I suspect that usage in speech is minimal, mostly something like "What is a shenanigan anyway?" DCDuring TALK 05:48, 11 November 2013 (UTC)

The entry "shenanigans has one sense less than "shenanigan". The only translation table provided for "shenanigans" is for the non-existent sense, i.e. the one that is provided in singular only. Somebody's fingers have been faster than his brain. --Hekaheka (talk) 06:02, 12 November 2013 (UTC)
The translation table was "borrowed" without modification from the shenanigan entry, along with just about everything else- even interwikis. Just about the only thing they didn't copy was the missing sense. Not all that great a job- they managed to add an "s" to all the instances of shenanigan, but that was about it. Chuck Entz (talk) 06:34, 12 November 2013 (UTC)
SpinningSpark 14:55, 13 November 2013 (UTC)
Which of these support which of the three definitions? Two of the definitions would seem to be worded as uncountable ("trickery" and "play"). The citations all fit a definition like "trick". None support the other senses. It is only the other senses that I am familiar with and only in the plural. DCDuring TALK 16:46, 13 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Whenever I read the singular form I feel that the author is playing with the word, ie, that it is a "literary"-type use. I don't think I have ever heard it used in the singular in my life. I'm not entirely alone: at COCA the plural outnumbers the singular 28 to 1; at BNC the count is 36 to 0. But looking at COHA it seems that use of the singular preceded use in the plural and has continued into the present. DCDuring TALK 16:47, 13 November 2013 (UTC)
I have converted the RfV of all three senses to an RfV of the singular of the two senses that I know only in the plural. It would be nice to see the citations supporting the singular sense actually where they belong, in the entry, under the definition they support. DCDuring TALK 17:01, 13 November 2013 (UTC)
Assuming that the citations above support the one sense that no rfv-sense tag was applied to, I've let it stay, while replacing the other senses with a soft direction to the plural. - -sche (discuss) 06:47, 29 July 2014 (UTC)
Good enough. DCDuring TALK 23:34, 3 September 2014 (UTC)
BTW, we show shenanigans as plural only, which it apparently isn't. It is sometimes uncountable. It seems to always take a plural verb. DCDuring TALK 00:02, 4 September 2014 (UTC)