whole shebang

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whole shebang

Post by Ken Greenwald » Sun May 01, 2005 7:30 pm

I just finished reading an article in this week’s Science News on ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’ (and also attended a seminar given by a dark matter theorist from Berkeley a few weeks ago) – and I suppose we should be mildly interested in these items since they do comprise 95% of the universe (25% dark matter and 70% dark energy). This means that the normal matter (dark matter is about 6 times more prevalent in the universe than normal visible matter – e.g. most of the material in the universe is invisible) and energy that we know and love only comprise a measly 5% of the known universe and the other 95% – we don’t know what the hell it is! However, we do know this weird stuff is there – dark matter is detected through its gravitational effect, and dark energy is what is pushing galaxies farther apart at an increasing rate. The lecturer from Berkeley suggested several explanations for dark matter - one more bizarre than the next - but a leading theory is that dark matter exists in another spatial dimension (and may, in fact, be all ‘around’ us) – enter the twilight zone! Dah dah dah dah, dah dah dah dah. There are experiments being planned and some already under way which should definitively determine (supposedly with in the next few years) what the deal is.

Anyway, in the article they said the following:
<2005 “On cosmic time scales ranging from individual galaxies to the WHOLE SHEBANG, the distribution of dark matter provides clues about the substance’s nature and past.”—‘Science News,’ Vol. 167, No. 17, 23 April, page 264>
Hmm. At first glance the use of the quaint-sounding term WHOLE SHEBANG would seem to be incongruous when used in the same sentence with anything supposedly as precise as ‘science.’ – but let’s face it folks if we don’t even know what 95% of the universe consists of, we’re not talking great precision here. (<:) Ask the Wordwizard took a look at ‘shebang,’ but disposed of it in just one sentence – I found that a bit sparse.

WHOLE SHEBANG means absolutely everything, everything in its entirety, every part, the whole lot. <"They decided to purchase the whole shebang at once rather than buying it up piecemeal.”> Some synonymous idioms include ‘WHOLE BALL OF WAX / ENCHILADA / SHOOTING MATCH / SHOOTING GALLERY / KIT AND CABOODLE / NINE YARDS / SCHMEAR.

The origin of this American slang expression is somewhat obscure (as you’ll quickly realize from my confused discussion below), but its coinage is generally attributed to Southern farmers sometime prior to the American Civil War. Some believe the expression became popular during that war as a term to denote a Confederate soldier’s tent and other personal possessions – all his worldly goods (this is the nice neat explanation, but finding precise info to cleanly back this up ain’t so easy). Returning Union troops spread the term throughout the North, and it has been common in the U.S. since that time.

Before there was the WHOLE SHEBANG there, of course, had to be just the SHEBANG and the best discussion on this whole issue (although a wee messy – but the etymology is not certain, and we can’t blame him for trying) I found on this was by Jesse Sheidlower’s (and I’ve added my comment using [[ ]]) in Word Maven:

SHEBANG: Shebang has only been around for a hundred and fifty years or so, but it has been through three huge changes in meaning that leave us wondering whether the various shebang are related at all.

The shebang [[of ‘whole shebang’]] . . ., the one that means 'everything', is probably most closely related to the old shebang which referred to some kind of dwelling [[poor temporary dwelling, hovel, hut, shack, tent]]. Walt Whitman wrote about Civil War soldiers' bush shebangs in 1862 [[see quote below]]. In 1863 the soldier Wightman wrote "My ‘shebang,’ which in opposition to the wishes of my tentmates I had insisted should be built above ground, was the dryest in the company" (‘To Fort Fisher’). [[‘shebang’ was Civil War military jargon for a soldiers tent and perhaps by extension all of his belongings]]. In the years following the Civil War, shebang went with the flow of post-war semantic drift, describing fewer barracks and more civilian structures: " 'Pears like hit might be a solid ole shebang,' he mused, as he stood looking at the . . .Opera House" (Dee, Munsey's Magazine, 1891).

How is this [[the tent, temporary structure]] shebang related to the one that means 'everything'? [[the ‘shebang’ being a soldier’s tent and all of his worldly belongings would neatly explain it!]]. Well, in many early citations, military officers are left "running the shebang" as in Johnson's ‘Talking Wire’ (1864) and S.C. Wilson's ‘Column South’ (1864). It isn't clear whether this shebang is a military camp or just means 'the whole thing', so the derivation of '[[the]] everything’ shebang from '[[the]] dwelling' shebang is possible.

The spoiler for this line of reasoning is Mark Twain's 1869 letter to his publishers in which he says that he believes "the chebang will be a success.” [[However, we have no idea what Twain’s reasoning was for the choice of this word]]. Spelling differences aside, this citation date is very close to the date of the first written citation (1862) for shebang meaning 'dwelling'. The dates are close enough to raise a doubt [[of what?]], but this connection is not nearly as shaky as some others in shebang's history, so I'll let it slide for now and pursue shebang one generation further [[back]] to the question that has etymologists scratching their heads: What is the origin of the 'dwelling' shebang?

One guess is that it comes from French ‘char-à-banc,’ a word that referred to horse-drawn carriages with bench seats. This etymology is logical for another meaning of shebang, 'a vehicle', as in Mark Twain's ‘Roughing It’: "This shebang's chartered, and we can't let you pay a cent" (1871) [[or 1872 according the OED]]. The connection between a horse-drawn carriage and a shelter is either the whitewater-rapids version of semantic drift, or just plain wrong.

The alternative brings us to another shebang, the one that refers to a saloon or tavern, as in W. Wright's ‘Big Bonanza’ "I was told down the street . . that there was a. . .row in one of the shebangs up this way" (1876). This shebang appears to be a variant of the Anglo-Irish shebeen Shebeen [[circa 1787]] refers to a place where liquor is sold illegally. It probably comes from the Irish séibín meaning 'small mug' or 'bad ale.'

We could hook up the 'shack or shelter' shebang with the 'illegal bar' shebang and they would make a perfect couple if only the date of the shanty-shelter shebang didn't precede the date of the liquor-house ‘shebang.’ [[this splitting of time hairs doesn’t strike me as too much of a concern since the illegal liquor-house ‘shebeen’ does precede the shanty-shelter by ~100 years and one of the first uses of ‘shebang’ in print as a liquor establishment was in a word glossary in 1878, which would indicate to me that the word had already been around for awhile]].

So, shebang 'the whole' has three possible sources: shebang 'the tavern', shebang 'the shack', and shebang 'the carriage'. With reasons to doubt all three of these etymologies, and suspicious gulfs of time and meaning to cross, ‘the whole shebang’ falls short of telling the whole story.

The expression the WHOLE SHEBANG first appeared in print in 1877 (see quote below) and specifically referred to ‘an entire vehicle.’ However, Twain’s letter of 1869 (see quote below) appears to me to be the first use of ‘shebang’ (spelled ‘chebang’) as meaning the ‘whole enchilada’ and not just a crude shack, tent, or vehicle or booze place. And as I mentioned above, we don’t know what Twain’s thought processes were when he wrote that. Did the word already mean ‘the whole thing’ at that time and he was just repeating it. Or was he synthesizing and generalizing, perhaps, for example, taking the idea of the ‘shebang’ being a whole ‘vehicle,’ as he used the word just three years later in 1872 (see quote below). Or was he just lifting from current military jargon. Or . . . .

The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins says:

“In the expression THE WHOLE SHEBANG, first recorded in 1879, ‘shebang’ means not just a shack but anything at all, that is, and present concern, thing, business—as in ‘You can take the whole shebang,’ you can take all of it.”

It seems strange that instead of making up a sentence, that Facts on File didn’t just provide us with the 1879 quote, which, by the way, they never revealed and which I couldn’t locate elsewhere.

And to add a little more variety to all of the above, in Swear Like a Trooper: A Dictionary of Military Terms and Phrase (2000) by William Priest, the author states the following:

SHEBANG: Confederate States Army / United States Army (1860s) crude shelter. The word is believed to have been coined by Irish soldiers in the Union army held at Andersonville Prison in Georgia. U.S. West (1870s) small, crude, roadside shack.

The following refer to a hut, shed, one’s dwelling, quarters:
<1862 “Their SHEBANG enclosures of bushes.”—in ‘Journal 23-31 December’ by Walt Whitman in Specimen Days (1882-3), page 27>

<1863 “The soldiers guarding the road came out from their tents or SHEBANGS of bushes.”–in Ibid, above 1862 quote, by Walt Whitman, January>

<1867 “By common consent, if any one had complaints to make, he carried them to the ‘SHEBANG’ of Big Peter.”—“Soldier’s Story’ by W. L. Goss, viii. page 153>

<1872 “We've got a SHEBANG fixed up for you to stand behind in No. I's house.”—‘Innocents at Home,’ ii. in ‘Roughing It’ (1882) by Mark Twain, page 270>

<1890 “Towards the close of the summer of 1862, the band organized by Plummer [an outlaw] having increased in numbers, he selected two points of rendezvous, as bases for their operations. These were called ‘SHEBANGS.’”—‘Vigilante Days’ by N. P. Langford, I. page 83>
The following refer to a vehicle:
<1872 “You're welcome to ride here as long as you please, but this SHEBANG’S chartered.”— ‘Innocents at Home,’ i. in ‘Roughing It’ (1882) by Mark Twain, page 263>

<1877 “That . . . don't fetch me even of he'd chartered the WHOLE SHEBANG.”—‘The Story of a Mine’ by Bret Harte, page 85>
The following refer to any matter of present concern, thing, business, as used in ‘whole shebang’:
<1869 “I like the book, I like you and your style and your business vim, and believe the CHEBANG will be a success.”—‘Letters to Publishers’ (1967) by Mark Twain, page 26>

<1891 “ . . ., ‘he is big enough to whip the whole ‘lay-out,’’ that is, to whip the WHOLE ‘SHEBANG,’ or whole number of them.”—‘Transactions and Proceedings of the Modern Language Association of American,’ Volume 6, No. 3, page 174> [[this is the oldest use of ‘whole shebang’ in this sense that I could locate and is 33 years older than that which the OED offers (see 1924 quote below)]]

<1895 “For last night we had a tempest,—while the mighty thunder rang, / Up there came a real guster, which blew down the WHOLE SHEBANG.” (SHEBANG’S a word from Hebrew meanin’ Seven, sayeth Krupp, /And applied to any shanty where they play at seven-up [[card game]].)”—‘Songs of the Sea and Lays of the Land’ by C. G. Leland, page 189>

<1904 “I sold out my SHEBANG, put the money in my pocket.”—‘The Georgians’ by W. N. Harben, ix. page 88>

<1924 “I am growing more and more sick of factions, gossip, jealousies, recriminations, excoriations and the WHOLE literary SHEE-BANG.”—‘Letters’ (1965) by H. Crane, 5 December, page 196>

<1933 “Camels placidly nibble the WHOLE SHEBANG, not merely the smallish but the spike thorns.”–‘Letters’ (1969) by E. E. Cummings, 13 September, page 124>

<1948 “I've . . . seen him standing up there on one of those outcrops overlooking the company's buildings as if he'd like to call down fire from heaven on the WHOLE SHEBANG.”—‘Golconda’ by V. Palmer, xiv. page 109>

<1977 “The standard deviation is then calculated by dividing the total number of wells, N, into the sum of all the group deviations . . . and then taking the square root of the WHOLE SHEBANG”—‘Introductory Risk Analysis’ by R. E. Megill, iii. page 28>
(Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, Fact on File Dictionary of Clichés, Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, Oxford English Dictionary)

Ken G – May 1, 2005

whole shebang

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sun May 01, 2005 9:22 pm

Ken, that was a most interesting excavation of the history of the word, even though nothing conclusive emerged.

When you started off your discussion with your account of the dark matter seminar, I also expected you to mention the "whole shebang" theory of the origin of the Universe...
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whole shebang

Post by Bobinwales » Mon May 02, 2005 7:49 pm

I'm not very much up on my Irish Language, although Celtic it is a different branch to Welsh, but it does strike me that SHEBANG could be a first cousin to SHEBEEN, which is an illegal drinking establishment.
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

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