I ran across this phrase in my editing recently: the whole shebang. Actually, the writer had misspelled the word as “sha-bang,” so I checked the dictionary to make sure that the spelling is “shebang.” While I was there, I looked at the etymology and the definition. A “shebang” is a hut or a dwelling, the Webster’s New World says, and is derived from the Anglo-Irish word “shebeen,” a place where liquor is sold without a license. We use “the whole shebang” now to refer to a whole thing or affair.
The Word Origins site attributes “the whole shebang” to Mark Twain. The The Mavens’ Word of the Day site explains that Walt Whitman used the word during the Civil War to refer to soldiers’ dwellings, and then goes on to write of Twain’s use of the word and to speculate on the origin.
“Shebang” is apparently also used in computer jargon, according to the Free Online Computer Dictionary.
This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.