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16 May 2011


 I often use this phrase - 'THE WHOLE SHEBANG:

 Dictionary definition:
An entire system;

but hadn't given much thought as to its origins, until I came across it in Michael Quinion's World Wide Words.

He has this to say about it:

"It's possible to say a surprising amount about this American expression, though nobody has yet unequivocally traced it to its source.

It starts to appear in printed sources in the early 1860s, as a term on the frontier and among the military for what Samuel Bowles described in his book of 1865, Across the Continent, as "any kind of an establishment, store, house, shop [or] shanty". One type of establishment was an inn or saloon, a use of "shebang" that was previously known only from later in the century but which I have now found from the 1860s. This is the earliest so far:

    'Along all the roads on the reservation to all the  mines, at the crossing of every stream or fresh-water spring, and near the principal Indian villages, an inn or  "shebang" is established, ostensibly for the entertainment of travellers, but almost universally used  as a den for supplying liquor to Indians.
[Annual Report of the US Department of the Interior, 1862.]'

It was also a term of frontiersmen for a shanty or rough cabin and by soldiers (this is the Civil War period, remember) for a bivouac or other temporary accommodation. The poet Walt Whitman wrote in his diary in December 1862 about the terrible conditions of the soldiers following the first battle of Fredericksbug, often living in "shebang enclosures of bushes"...

...As some very early examples refer to drinking establishments, it is tempting to look to the Irish "shebeen", an unlicensed and often disreputable drinking place (in origin the Anglo-Irish síbín, from séibe, a mugful) as its origin. A shift from "shebeen" to "shebang" has been seriously suggested by the experts and seems to be a very plausible origin...

Whatever the source, "shebang" took on yet a third sense early on to mean something like "the business" or "the current concern", so leading to "the whole shebang", the entire setup, or whole affair or matter...
 ...The most likely source is again military. Officers are recorded during the Civil War as "running the shebang" (for example in a diary of 1864 reproduced in Susanne Wilson's compilation Column South of 1960), in which "shebang" seems to refer to the whole of an encampment or other military establishment, a straightforward
extension of the idea of a single bivouac."

Isn't that interesting.  Do you use this phrase, and if so have you any other ideas as to its origins?

*World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion 2011. All rights reserved The  original post can be found at:   http://www.worldwidewords.org/nl/ibvg.htm