Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Whole Shebang

An online news site reported the following:

"’I do believe I can win’ a national election, Sarah Palin has declared to Newsweek. The latest teaser from Palin seems to indicate that she's about to go for the big shebang.”

Okay, what is this thing called a “shebang” that ex-Governor Palin is about to go for?  Well, no one quite seems to know, which may be just the thing for someone whose presidential aspirations are unclear.  Maybe she and Rick Perry could join forces and double their chances to acquire a shebang, whatever it is. 

The earliest citation of the word in print is in Walt Whitman’s Specimen Days, 1862: "Besides the hospitals, I also go occasionally on long tours through the camps, talking with the men, &c. Sometimes at night among the groups around the fires, in their shebang enclosures of bushes." Whitman uses shebang to describe some kind of primitive dwelling. (Just the place for Palin and Perry.)

The word turns up with wildly different meanings later on: a “vehicle” in 1872, a “saloon” in 1878, “any sort of house or office” in 1869. In Roughing It (1872), Mark Twain opted for the vehicle: "Take back your money, madam. We can't allow it. You're welcome to ride here as long as you please, but this shebang's chartered, and we can't let you pay a cent."

In the same year the Sedalia (Missouri) Daily Democrat used the word pretty close to its present meaning, that is “any complicated matter of concern”: "Well, the Democracy can flax [thrash or beat] the whole shebang, and we hope to see our party united."

Nowadays the word is almost always used in the phrase “the whole shebang,” synonymous with the “whole ball of wax,” “the whole enchilada,” “the whole kit and caboodle,” and “the whole nine yards.” 

As for shebang’s etymology, the Oxford English Dictionary (typically) cops out with "of obscure origin,” but other sources suggest a derivation from French charabanc, which is a bus-like wagon.  Others speculate that there might be a connection between shebang and the Irish shebeen, which is a place where liquor is sold without a license.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has opted not to go for the whole shebang, but he has a political observation that he cannot suppress:

            Palin, Paul, and Perry,
            And Bachmann, Trump, and Romney,
            My goodness, it is very
            Hard to pick a nominee!
            Huckabee and Cain,
            And Huntsman and Santorum,
            Now Gingrich may campaign--           
            Isn’t that a quorum?
            Strictly off the cuff,
            I count almost twenty!           
            Do we have enough?
            Oh, yes, we have Pawlenty!

1 comment:

  1. " ... some kind of primitive dwelling. (Just the place for Palin and Perry.)" HA!
    Yes, well, as long as said dwelling is OUTSIDE Texas.