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: An Illustrated History of American Words and Phrases by Stuart Berg Flexner (Von Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, 1976).