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").

Example Sentences

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 There’s this real sense of hope and affection and camaraderie that comes through amidst all the shenanigans. Yvonne Villarreal, Los Angeles Times, 1 June 2023 Select models even come with a headlight, a perk for middle-of-the night shenanigans. Yelena Moroz Alpert, House Beautiful, 7 May 2023 Tindall's daughters Lena and Mia were also spotted getting up to shenanigans in the audience. Town & Country, 6 May 2023 After the city of Detroit went bankrupt in 2013, in part because of shenanigans by Wall Street banks, JPMorgan pledged to help reverse the city’s fortunes, and Mr. Dimon personally associated himself with the work. Emily Flitter, New York Times, 2 May 2023 Don’t expect either coach to participate in those shenanigans. Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY, 29 Apr. 2023 The exhibition includes handwritten letters and postcards, tour itineraries and setlists plus demo recordings and video from the many bands he’s worked with, and new interviews with artists such as Dave Grohl, Ian MacKaye, and Kathleen Hanna reminiscing about their tour shenanigans down under. Liisa Ladouceur, SPIN, 11 Apr. 2023 After a series of unusual shenanigans unfold, the band reconvenes and runs on a track in space trying to reach the studio once again, only for there to be a twist at the end of the video. Starr Bowenbank, Billboard, 16 Feb. 2023 The few humans that survive are forced into slavery by ambulatory robots and forced to engage in increasingly baroque time-travel shenanigans to try to make things better. K. Thor Jensen, PCMAG, 16 May 2023 See More

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 9 Jun. 2023.

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