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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:
- French ces manigances (“these fraudulent schemes”).
- Spanish chanada, shortening of charranada (“trick, deceit”).
- Irish sionnachuighim (“I play the fox”).
- Rhine Franconian schinägeln (“to work hard”), from the peddler's argot term Schenigelei (“work”).
- East Anglian dialect nannicking (“playing the fool”).
- 18th century German Scheinheiligens (“sham holy men / sham holy actions”, noun plural), scheinheilig (“hypocritical”)
- (countable) A deceitful confidence trick, or mischief causing discomfort or annoyance.
- I spotted his next shenanigan – saw it coming – and so avoided being fooled.
- (uncountable, dated, rare) singular of .
- 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 32423418, 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.
- , 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 995345986, 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.
singular of shenanigan — see shenanigans