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The whole shebang

Posted by ESC on September 25, 2005

In Reply to: 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".


Here's what we have in the archives, including a definition from a Civil War dictionary:

: It may be related to the Irish word shebeen.
: shebang \She*bang"\, n. [Cf. Shebeen.] A jocosely depreciative name for a dwelling or shop. [Slang,U.S.] Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
: Webster's 1913 Dictionary Definition: SHEBEEN: \She*been"\, n. [Of Irish origin; cf. Ir. seapa a shop.] A low public house; especially, a place where spirits and other excisable liquors are illegally and privately sold. [Ireland]
: It's not clear if this word has the same derivation; shebang n : an entire system; used in the phrase "the whole shebang" Source: WordNet ® 1.6, © 1997 Princeton University

"Shebang -- A temporary hut or shelter." From "The Encyclopedia of Civil War Usage: An Illustrated Compendium of the Everyday Language of Soldiers and Civilians" by Webb Garrison with Cheryl Garrison. Cumberland House Publishing Inc., Nashville, Tenn., 2001.

Also: "meaning a temporary shelter, hovel, or shack in English since the 18th century (from Anglo-Irish 'shebeen,' an illegal drinking establishment, from the Gaelic 'seibe,' mug, mugful). 'The whole shebang' is an American expression of 1879." From "I Hear America Talking" by Stuart Berg Flexner (Von Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, 1976).