Printable Version
Pronunciation: shê-nn-i-gên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: Shenanigans are not always left up to the girls despite the spelling of today's word. Shenanigans may be carried off by either gender for there are no henanigans. A shenanigan is 1. a mischievous, high-spirited prank, playful tricks, cutting up, or 2. a deceitful, conniving trick, a devious undertaking.

Notes: Today's Good Word is itself a lexical shenanigan, a silly word someone made up for the fun of it that stuck in English because it's useful and amusing. It is a lexical orphan with no family of paronyms. Although it may be used in the singular, this word is most often used in the plural, as in, "I couldn't get a thing done with all the shenanigans the girls were up to this afternoon."

In Play: Shenanigans are usually simply high-spirited horseplay: "The kids were always up to all sorts of shenanigans, like dropping ice down someone's collar or putting frogs in their pajamas." While shenanigans may be deceitful, they usually imply minor deceit: "Taking the boss out to dinner the day before he decides on the promotion Les Cheatham wants is just the sort of shenanigan Cheatham would pull."

Word History: According to Etymonline, the earliest records of shenanigan appeared in San Francisco and Sacramento, California. This suggests that Spanish chanada "trick, deceit," might be the origin of this word. But chanada leaves a lot of shenanigan not accounted for. The German slang word Schenigelei "work, craft" comes much closer, but in California? Another wild guess is that Irish sionnach "fox" is behind this word. Since we are just guessing, I would suggest that it might have come from a figurative reference to goats, especially when they eat something we would prefer they not. Why could shenanigan not come from she + nanny (goat) with the gan added to make it sound like Irish? But then your guess is as good as mine. (Doug Schulek-Miller is up to his old shenanigan: suggesting words we can't explain.)

Dr. Goodword,

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