she·​nan·​i·​gan shə-ˈna-ni-gən How to pronounce shenanigan (audio)
: a devious trick used especially for an underhand purpose
: tricky or questionable practices or conduct
usually used in plural
: high-spirited or mischievous activity
usually used in plural

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 uses of the word in print appeared in the mid-1800s. 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 This shenanigan seems like a blend that could stick: Scotch Whisky by Scotch Brand. Mike Snider, USA TODAY, 1 Apr. 2024 Part 2: Pregame shenanigans Where to pregame for the Reds' Opening Day game The party doesn't stop after the Opening Day parade. Grace Tucker, The Enquirer, 26 Mar. 2024 Between that, and her throwing her chicken cutlets at you, this felt like peak Drag Race shenanigans. Stephen Daw, Billboard, 19 Mar. 2024 Social media ‘shenanigans’ Years passed — and the brothers kept turning down offers for the James card. Daniel Miller, Los Angeles Times, 14 Mar. 2024 In the film, the grandmothers spend their days reading the paper, throwing two-person dance parties and pulling other shenanigans while ending their nights by sleeping in the same bed. Andrew Blankstein, NBC News, 11 Mar. 2024 The administrative complaint also alleged paperwork lies and shenanigans by Seduction and Sampson. David J. Neal, Miami Herald, 5 Mar. 2024 Keen to catch the red-carpet shenanigans beforehand? Vogue, 4 Feb. 2024 Marc Piasecki Something tells us Mossy doesn't have much of a sense of humor about these types of shenanigans but probably just won't care. Elizabeth Logan, Glamour, 4 Mar. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'shenanigan.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


origin unknown

First Known Use

1854, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of shenanigan was in 1854


Dictionary Entries Near shenanigan

Cite this Entry

“Shenanigan.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Apr. 2024.

More from Merriam-Webster on shenanigan

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!