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

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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 Plus, there’s plenty of adorable shenanigans, of course. Danny Horn,, 10 July 2024 But as the trailer progresses, the siblings become more lively, and we’re treated to visuals of — among other things — a machine gun-wielding Santa Claus, Luther in a ball pit, and new cast members Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally up to all kinds of shenanigans. Rebecca Iannucci, TVLine, 9 July 2024 While using a pair of free tickets to a big soccer match, the execs’ drunken shenanigans cause everyone in the country to start hunting them down. Etan Vlessing, The Hollywood Reporter, 9 July 2024 Bhat lacks the budget for the kind of third-act shenanigans that movies like this often rely upon to raise the stakes (even at the expense of lowering the suspense), but that doesn’t feel like the only reason why the police don’t get involved. David Ehrlich, IndieWire, 3 July 2024 See all Example Sentences for shenanigan 

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 18 Jul. 2024.

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