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Etymology 1[edit]

Unknown. First attested in 1854 in Pennsylvania as "chebang" in the sense of an Oddfellows lodge.[1] Attested from the early 1860s with the meaning "inn" and (slightly later) “temporary shelter”. The earliest attestions (1854-1859) are spelled "chebang" and abstractly seem to indicate an "affair," "matter of concern," or "happening," in keeping with the modern sense, and seem to be from Midwestern sources; the specific sense of a structure, often pejorative and usually spelled "shebang," seems to originate in the American West just before the Civil War and was widely diffused by troops during the conflict; the sense of a "vehicle” is from 1871–2.[2][3] [4] The first two senses seem to have been conflated extensively, though they may have different origins. A note by Massachusetts journalist Samuel Bowles dated June 5th, 1865 refers to the term as "vernacular of the [Rocky] Mountains" (Colorado), and defines shebang as "any kind of an establishment, store, house, shop, shanty."[5] This sense appears in California as early as 1860, "the old shebang of a theatre."[6] This apparently Western sense is almost certainly from shebeen, sheban (cabin where unlicensed liquor is sold and drunk (chiefly in Ireland and Scotland)), from Irish síbín (illicit whiskey), diminutive of síob (a drift). One of the earliest known quotations, from June 1862 in the Washington Territory, specifically denotes an inn being used as a front for illegal liquor sales. Irish actor and novelist Tyrone Power used "sheban" in the sense of an inn in his 1830 novel The Lost Heir.

In the sense of “temporary shelter”, it was perhaps spread by US Civil War Confederate enlistees from Louisiana, from French chabane (hut, cabin), a dialectal form of French cabane (a covered hut, lodge, cabin) (see cabin, cabana), or at least influenced by this term. (However, it was not, as sometimes claimed, common among prisoners at Andersonville; the US National Park Service says it "is virtually absent from most prisoner diaries and contemporary memoirs" and testimony.) The vehicle sense is perhaps from the unrelated French char-à-banc (bus-like wagon with many seats). The sense of “matter of concern” could be from either, or onomatopoeia.

Alternative forms[edit]


shebang (plural shebangs)

  1. (informal, US, archaic) A lean-to or temporary shelter.
    • 1862 December, Walt Whitman, Journal:
      Their shebang enclosures of bushes.
    • 1889, Bret Harte, The Heritage of Dedlow Marsh:
      They say that old pirate, Kingfisher Culpepper, had a stock of the real thing from Robertson County laid in his shebang on the Marsh just before he died.
  2. (informal, US, archaic) A place or building; a store, saloon, or brothel.
    Synonyms: jawn, joint
    • 1862 June 30, Charles Hutchins, Letter G 10, Report of the Secretary of the Interior[2]:
      Along all the roads on the reservation to all the mines, at the crossing of every stream or fresh-water spring, and near the principal Indian villages, an inn or shebang is established, ostensibly for the entertainment of travellers, but almost universally used as a den for supplying liquor to Indians."
  3. (informal) Any matter of present concern; thing; or business; most commonly in the phrase "the whole shebang".
    Synonyms: jawn, jimbang
    Coordinate terms: see Thesaurus:thingy
    • 1863, James Bryan, A Short Account of the "Mary Ann" Hospital, Grand Gulf, Miss.[3]:
      On the third the whole "chebang" was removed [...]
    • 1869, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), letter to publisher:[3]
      I like the book, I like you and your style and your business vim, and believe the chebang will be a success.
    • 1934, Robert E. Howard, Sluggers on the Beach:
      "Before I'd share anything with you," he said bitterly, "I’d lose the whole shebang."
  4. (informal, obsolete) A vehicle.[7]
    • 1871, December 14, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), “Roughing It” (lecture), printed in Fred W. Lorch, “Mark Twain’s Lecture from Roughing it”, in American Literature, volume 22, number 3 (November 1950), pages 305:
      [] So they got into the empty omnibus and sat down. Colonel Jack says: “...What is the name of this.” Colonel Jim told him it was a barouche. After a while he poked his head out in front and said to the driver, “I say, Johnny, this suits me. We want this shebang all day. Let the horses go.”
Derived terms[edit]


  1. ^ Jack Humphries, "Showing him the 'Chebang'!," Raftsman's Journal, Clearfield, Pennsylvania, Saturday, July 15, 1854
  2. ^ Take our Word
  3. 3.0 3.1 whole shebang, the”,, Dave Wilton, Tuesday, February 20, 2007.
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ Samuel Bowles, "Letter VI: A Sunday in the Mountains" in Across the Continent, Springfield, Mass: Samuel Bowles and Co., 1865, Across the Continent
  6. ^ "Like Old Times," The Marysville Appeal, Marysville, California, Monday, March 19, 1860
  7. ^ Take our Word
  • Shebang. Cassell's Dictionary of Slang By Jonathon Green, Sterling Pub. Co., Inc. 2006, p. 1261

Etymology 2[edit]

hash +‎ bang or sharp +‎ bang, after Etymology 1.


shebang (plural shebangs)

  1. (computing) The character string "#!" used at the beginning of a computer file to indicate which interpreter can process the commands in the file, chiefly used in Unix and related operating systems.