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The whole shebang

Posted by Rudi Dozauer on September 25, 2005

In the American phrase "the whole shebang", meaning "the whole thing", the word "shebang" is said to be of obscure origin ( OED ). I encountered the word in a hand-written Civil War diary (1861-65 )with the meaning of crude, quickly constructed shelter. It seems to me that it can be safely derived from a Latin word "capanna" which gave rise to Old Provençal "cabana", French "cabane", English "cabin", etc. The English spelling serves to hide the French which one would expect in Northern French ( save Norman French ), as in "char" vs. the Anglo-Norman "car". The change of /a/ to shva is due to the stress on the last syllable, retained from French. The change of a final nasal to is attested in colloquial speech, such as "dang" for "damn".