Archive for Shenanigans

Singular Shenanigans

Posted in Pedantry with tags , , , , , on March 31, 2019 by telescoper

I used the word `shenanigans’ in a recent post, after which I wondered to myself whether there’s such a thing as a single `Shenanigan’. The Oxford English Dictionary says yes, defining it thusly:

I was a little surprised by this as I’ve only ever heard this word in the plural, shenanigans, but there we are. Another thing that surprised me is the `Origin obscure’; even the One True Chambers says `Origin unknown’. I’d always assumed that this was a word of Irish origin like, e.g., `slogan’. The oldest uses given in the OED are all American, from the mid-19th Century which does not refute the possibility that it is based on an Irish word because of the huge Irish diaspora in the United States, especially after the Great Famine of the 1840s, but I’m surprised the main English dictionaries have been unable to locate the connection.

The best I’ve been able to do using Google is the Irish word sionnachulghim,meaning `to play tricks, to be foxy’ (from sionnach, `fox’). That seems to me to be a plausible idea, but not it’s conclusive. If anyone has any further thoughts on the origin of shenanigans I’d be very interested to hear them through the comments box below.

To return to my original thought that shenanigans was a noun that that only exists in the plural, if it were so it would belong to the class of Plurale Tantum (which I blogged about a long time ago, here in the context about whether `data’ is singular or plural). Other examples of English nouns that exist in the `plural only’ include: suds, entrails, outskirts, odds, tropics, riches, surroundings, thanks, heroics, faeces and genitalia.

To my mind you should treat your data the same way you treat your genitalia. Grammatically speaking, I mean.

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