Remembrances: Colloquialisms

Today, we bring you one of Sylvia Henricks’ “Remembrances.” You can read more of Sylvia’s columns weekly in The Franklin Township Informer, or in her book From The Ash Grove.

Not long ago I had to have a new pump put in my well. The workman, competent and friendly, did a good job. He also put in a new pressure tank beneath a counter in the kitchen. When it came time to pay, I asked him if the tank should be on a different bill. “Oh, no,” he said, “just write one check for the whole shebang!”

“The whole shebang!” I exclaimed. “I haven’t heard that expression in 40 years.” (It’s probably longer than that.) “My father used to say it.” “My grandfather used to say it,” he said with a laugh. (Strange to say, I heard the expression on TV shortly after that, a program where “market warriors” search for, and buy items at flea markets which they believe will resell for more than they have spent. One such buyer used the expression to tell the seller she wanted all the pieces that were part of her purchase.)

As in many expressions we use, the terms may defy definition, but we know – or think we know — what the saying means. My friend Phyllis knew immediately what it meant. “The whole kit and caboodle!” she said.

But I was curious. What could a “shebang” be? Several dictionaries include the phrase, identifying a shebang as a hut or small house. One provides a more extended meaning , “an affair, business, contrivance, thing, etc.” The Crossword dictionary calls a shebang simply a hut. My almost 5 inch thick Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary (1962)- which I bought a few years ago at a yard sale for 25 cents — says. “shebang is a variation of shebeen, an unlicensed house where liquor is sold illegally (chiefly Ireland and Scotland.)”

Perhaps most complete is the definition in Volume VII of The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia , 1902. The 10 vol. set was given to me by the librarian at the Indiana Central College (now UIndy) Library, who was glad to find a home for the then recently gifted leather bound books since the Library already had a set. I am shortening the definition. “…a shanty, place; concern; as who lives in this shebang? Or “He threatened to clean up the whole shebang.” The definition also includes a quotation from Mark Twain in his Roughing It. “We’ve got a shebang fixed up for you to stand behind…”

Perhaps Phyllis’ definition is the most useful, after all –“ The whole kit and caboodle.” (As long as you know what those words mean.)

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