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Of uncertain origin. Earliest known use comes from San Francisco in 1855 at the time of the California Gold Rush. These possibilities have been suggested:


  • IPA(key): /ʃəˈnæn.ɪˌɡən/,
  • (file)


shenanigan (countable and uncountable, plural shenanigans)

  1. (countable) A deceitful confidence trick, or mischief causing discomfort or annoyance.
    I spotted his next shenanigan – saw it coming – and so avoided being fooled.
  2. (uncountable, dated, rare) singular of shenanigans.
    • 1855 September, “Mr. Soap’s Yachting Excursion”, in Yankee-notions, volume IV, number 9, New York, N.Y.: Published by T. W. Strong, 98 Nassau-st., →OCLC, page 280:
      One of Professor [John] Moon's most astonishing "experiments," consisted of holding a watch suspended from a short chain at arm's length, and allowing anyone in the pit to pull pistol and "blaze away" at the word "fire," whereupon the watch would most unconscionably disappear. An individual who had attended several evenings and witnessed the "experiment," suspected, in the classic language of the times, that there was something of "shenanigan" in it.
    • [1877], Cha[rle]s H. Sparks, “Political History”, in History of Winneshiek County, with Biographical Sketches of Its Eminent Men, Decorah, Iowa: Jas. Alex. Leonard, →OCLC, page 31:
      There are stories still told how money was used and promised, but from the best knowledge I can acquire, I think this is not true. If sharp practice was played, and "shenanigan" was used, we, to-day, looking back upon those times, cannot say that evil has come of it.

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