she·​nan·​i·​gan | \ shə-ˈna-ni-gən How to pronounce shenanigan (audio) \

Definition of shenanigan

1 : a devious trick used especially for an underhand purpose
2a : tricky or questionable practices or conduct usually used in plural
b : high-spirited or mischievous activity usually used in plural

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Did You Know?

The history of shenanigan is as tricky and mischievous as its meaning. Etymologists have some theories about its origins, but no one has been able to prove them. All we can say for certain is that the earliest known use of the word in print appeared in the April 25, 1855, issue of San Francisco's Town Talk. Although the "underhanded trick" sense of the word is oldest, the most common senses in use now are "tricky or questionable practices" (as in "political shenanigans") and "high-spirited behavior" (as in "youthful shenanigans").

Examples of shenanigan in a Sentence

students engaging in youthful shenanigans on the last day of school an act of vandalism that went way beyond the usual shenanigans at summer camp

Recent Examples on the Web

The bad guys, frankly, alternately prove nasty and inept, and the build-up spends a bit too much time on CW-esque shenanigans. Brian Lowry, CNN, "'Stranger Things' tackles teen troubles in third season," 3 July 2019 But the other non-fireworks shenanigans Adams requested remain an important aspect., "6 peculiar and patriotic Fourth of July celebrations across the country," 1 July 2019 But a shadow hung over the lighthearted shenanigans. Nora Krug, Washington Post, "Life beyond ‘Star Trek’: Kate Mulgrew’s poignant, sometimes shocking family story," 7 June 2019 For four seasons, Wright drew laughs as Willie Tanner, the harried homeowner forced to deal with the kooky shenanigans of a wisecracking alien named ALF (an acronym for Alien Life Form) who crash-landed into his garage from the planet Melmac. Storm Gifford,, "Actor Max Wright, who played father on ‘Alf,’ dies at 75," 27 June 2019 Watch all the daily shenanigans and hootenanny that happens when the cameras are turned off. Joey Nolfi,, "Yvie Oddly, Nina West, more Drag Race stars getting new reality shows," 27 June 2019 Doute and the rest of the girl gang have been documenting the bachelorette shenanigans on her Instagram, sharing photos out on the water and out on the town. Ashley Boucher,, "Vanderpump Rules' Kristen Doute Poses Topless as She Celebrates Brittany and Jax's Upcoming Nuptials," 7 June 2019 Amid the cute critter shenanigans, this one has plenty of lessons for the parents. Mark Kennedy, Houston Chronicle, "‘The Secret Life of Pets 2’ is a well-crafted sequel," 6 June 2019 Sophie Turner, out promoting Dark Phoenix and supporting new husband Joe's Jonas Brother documentary Chasing Happiness, has been giving us more tidbits about the often-hilarious shenanigans that took place on the Game of Thrones set. Katherine J. Igoe, Marie Claire, "Joe Jonas Totally Almost Kissed Sophie Turner's 'Game of Thrones' Stunt Double On Set," 6 June 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'shenanigan.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of shenanigan

1854, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for shenanigan

origin unknown

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Statistics for shenanigan

Last Updated

18 Jul 2019

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Time Traveler for shenanigan

The first known use of shenanigan was in 1854

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More from Merriam-Webster on shenanigan

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for shenanigan

Nglish: Translation of shenanigan for Spanish Speakers

Comments on shenanigan

What made you want to look up shenanigan? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


appealing forcibly to the mind or reason

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