The word “shenanigan” is an Americanism with a murky past. According to the Online Eytmology Dictonary, it was first used around 1855. “Earliest records of it are in San Francisco and Sacramento, California. Suggestions include Spanish chanada, a shortened form of charranada ‘trick, deceit;’ or, less likely, German Schenigelei, peddler's argot for ‘work, craft,’ or the related German slang verb schinäglen,” the dictionary notes. “Another guess centers on Irish sionnach ‘fox.’"
I like the Irish theory best. After all, a fox stealing into a henhouse is surely full of mischief, aka shenanigans.
The word is most often used in its plural form. In recent years the meaning of “shenanigans” has broadened simply to mean playful tricks.
Illustration special to the Sentinel