The whole shebang: meaning and origin

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I first encountered the expression “the whole shebang” in the pronunciation practice sheet of the Accent Makeover course.

And I didn’t know the meaning of this expression.

But I loved how it sounds and I felt that my guess about it’s meaning was right.

And actually, it was right. It’s close to the expression “the whole (something) thing.

English speakers use it when they want to describe everything that is involved in a particular activity or situation.

For instance:
He loves acting but hates the whole movie-star thing.
I really liked him, but he didn’t want to be with someone who wasn’t into the whole kids thing.

So, “the whole shebang” is pretty the same as “the whole (something) thing”. But with “shebang” you don’t need to add “something-thing”.

Here’s an example:
My wedding is next week, but my parents are taking care of the whole shebang.

The person says about the wedding and that the parents will organize all the necessary things. So they will find a place, a church, a priest, invite guests, order meals, flowers etc. And the person describes all of these things as “the whole shebang.”

Another example:
There were balloons, flowers, fireworks, performers, and the whole shebang that any festival usually has.

I think Merriam Webster’s Dictionary gives the clearest definition of “the whole shebang”: everything that is included in something.

What’s “the whole shebang” origin?

As you probably have already guessed, “the whole shebang” is an informal expression with the American “roots.”

The word “shebang” appeared in the USA at the end of the 19th century.

Initially, it meant “a hut” or a temporary dwelling in a rural area. (See the picture)


The American poet Walt Whitman first used “shebang” to describe a hut in 1862.

Seven years later Marysville Tribune printed the definition of “shebang”. The paper recommended using the word to describe “any sort of house or office.”

In 1872 Mark Twain uses ‘shebang’ to refer to a sort of vehicle.

".... 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.”

The expression “the whole shebang” was created when Americans started to replace the “thing” with this catchy word “shebang”. The first know example of this usage dates back to 1872.

“The fact that people using it didn't know what a shebang was didn't really matter. 
It was simply a colorful way of saying 'thing', explains

Other colorful synonyms of “the whole shebang” are “the whole ball of wax” and “the whole enchilada.”

Well, in my opinion, “the whole shebang” is more catchy and easy to learn than “ball of wax” or “enchilada.”

Nowadays, English speakers use “shebang” mostly in this catchy expression. But actually, in computing, shebang is a character sequence consisting of number sign and exclamation mark (#!) at the beginning of a script.

How to pronounce the whole shebang

in British English /ʃɪˈbæŋ/
in American English /ʃəˈbæŋ/

As you can see, there’s a as in cat sound (æ) in both dialects. In the British version, the word starts with ɪ sound and in the American version, it starts with schwa sound (ə). There’s a as in cat sound (æ) in the second syllable in both cases. And the stress is on the second syllable: she-bAng (try to pronounce!)

And it’s super easy to remember the spelling. If you look at the “shebang” more closely you’ll see that it comprises of two words: “she” + “bang”.

Here’re some cool sentences for you to feel the context more and practice:

A cousin on Facebook thinks the president is actually dying; a high-school buddy surmises he’s faking the whole shebang. (The Washington Post)

Then there’s the beauty. The makeup, the hair, the whole shebang, undergoes an epiphany from the time Emily arrives in the city looking very “American”. (Glamour Magazine)

For added convenience, the whole shebang includes a wall-mounted charging station. (Dyson V11 Vacuum Cleaner Review)

Examples from Youglish (that you can shadow!)

Tell us about living rich now, your sabbatical, the whole shebang

We named the whole shebang after the Sun, here you go.

Kind of thrown in the whole shebang because I was associated with him.

Why don’t you think about moving the whole shebang in there?


That’s it for this week. Let me know in the comments if you liked this expression. And try to create your own sentence, so I can see that you got the idea.

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6 thoughts on “The whole shebang: meaning and origin

  1. I like vocabulary, explanation, examples the whole shebang you’ve sent to me about word of the week

  2. The Dress, the makeup and whole shebang gives me more confidence …. I love it!, thank you Vika

  3. If you trutly want to improve your English, you’ve got to study Grammar, Vocabulary, Pronunciation, Reading, Writing and Listening, the whole shebang…
    To fill gaps in your weak spots.

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