Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Shenanigans

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is shenanigans. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Shenanigans is an informal word used to refer to mischievous or bold activity or behavior, or to dishonest or questionable practices or conduct. Its oldest meaning, and the one most likely to be encountered as the singular shenanigan, is “a devious trick used especially for an underhanded purpose.”

// Reunited at their class reunion, the school’s most notorious pranksters were instantly back to their old shenanigans, cracking up their former classmates with hilarious toasts during dinner.

// The CEO resigned amid accusations of financial shenanigans and dubious deals.


“If ever there was one person who was the master of pulling off April Fools’ Day gimmicks, it was my mother. Yearly, I could count on her fooling me particularly when I was in grade school. She would disguise food in my lunch box. I thought I was getting something special, but when I removed the wrapping, I would find she had cleverly packaged a Band-Aid to make me think what she was giving me was something scrumptious and tasty. Did some of her shenanigans rub off on me?” — Paul J. Volkmann, The Latrobe (Pennsylvania) Bulletin, 30 Mar. 2023

Did You Know?

Fool us once, shame on you; fool us twice, shame on us. Either way, we call it shenanigans, employing a word whose history is as tricky and mischievous as its meaning. Etymologists have some theories about its origins, but no one has been able to prove any of them. All we can say for certain is that the earliest known uses of the word in print appeared in the mid-1800s. Although the “underhanded trick” sense of the word is oldest, the most common senses in use now are “dishonest or questionable practices” (as in “political shenanigans”) and “mischievous high-spirited behavior” (as in “youthful shenanigans”).

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