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Does the -igan suffix serve the same function in the following words?

  • shenanigan
  • cardigan
  • hooligan

If so, what does it mean? Where does it come from?

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Most people wouldn't agree backyardigan is a "word" at all. I think cardigan derives from the name (Earl of Cardigan?). And nobody really knows the etymology of hooligan, but I don't see any reason to think -igan is in any meaningful sense a "suffix". In short, the question is either Not Constructive or Too Localised. – FumbleFingers Nov 11 '12 at 21:40
Don’t forget barrigan, corrigan, larrigan, mulligan, ptarmigan, shenanigans, starrigan, toboggan, and wanigan while you’re at it. If you dig just a wee bit, you will actually find that most of those share something interesting in common. @FumbleFingers take note. – tchrist Nov 11 '12 at 21:54
@tchrist: I don't know it makes much difference that the sequence is somewhat associated with Irish/Welsh words. I can't see it "means" anything (which to me means it's not in any meaningful sense a "suffix". :). – FumbleFingers Nov 12 '12 at 0:09
@FumbleFingers: Just because you don't recognize it doesn't mean there's not a pattern. – Mitch Nov 12 '12 at 2:08
@Mitch: Yeah, I guess. But the only pattern I see is "Celtishness", and that doesn't seem to apply to the only "productive suffix" example I know - the Canadian kids tv show Backyardigans. If there's a pattern, they probably weren't tapping into it. – FumbleFingers Nov 12 '12 at 3:38
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Cardigan and hooligan probably come from the Welsh name Ceredigion and the Irish name Houlighan, respectively. The Welsh name Ceredigion means "Ceredig's land". There are a lot of Irish names that end in -gan, -han or -ghan. If we go by the etymologies I can find for Monaghan and Mulligan the -an is a diminuitive. So these two are not that closely related, but mulligan and hooligan may be, since they're both from Irish names ending with the same diminuitive.

I should point out that the Irish name O Huallachain can be spelled Houligan, Houlihan, or Houlighan in English, so these three suffixes indeed have the same origin.

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Cardigan is an eponym from George Brudenell, Earl of Cardigan in the Crimean War. Perhaps if he had been less interested in clothing he might not have led the Charge of the Light Brigade. – TimLymington Nov 11 '12 at 23:17
@TimLymington - There were two George Brudenells styled Earl of Cardigan (the 3rd and 4th Earl respectively), both safely dead long before the six hundred rode into the Valley of Death themselves, sent there by 7th Earl -- the great-great-grandson and great-grandson of those Georges -- James Thomas Brudenell. – Malvolio Nov 12 '12 at 4:36
So the earlier earls were now late. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 12 '12 at 9:37

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