What is the etymology of the phrase "the whole shebang", or "whole shebang"? I only know the term "shebang" from a computer science standpoint, but I'm not sure of any other uses of it outside of this phrase. So, I was wondering if that's where the phrase originated.

closed as general reference by Robusto, tchrist, MetaEd, Matt E. Эллен, F'x Sep 12 '12 at 23:33

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Voting to close as general reference. The answer is easily found via a single search. – Robusto Aug 30 '12 at 14:03
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    I'm a professional computer geek and I'd never heard the "computer meaning" you cite before. In any case the phrase was in use long before Linux came along. Some people call an exclamation mark a "bang", so I'd guess that usage came from someone noticing the "bang" followed by "sh" and being reminded of the word "shebang". So whatever the origin of the phrase "the whole shebang" is ... that isn't it. – Jay Aug 30 '12 at 14:12

The earliest citation that I can find for shebang in the Unix sense is:

1989   Larry Wall, Post to comp.sources.bugs titled "perl 3.0 patch #7"   Perl didn't grok setuid scripts that had a space on the first line between the shebang and the interpreter name.

In this sense, shebang is a shortening of hash-bang or sharp-bang; but Larry Wall is fond of puns (for example, his book title Programming Perl is a pun on the title of Jon Bentley's column "Programming Pearls" in Communications of the ACM) so I am confident that if he was the coiner of the term he would have intended an allusion to the already existing word shebang.

In general use, shebang is fossilized in the phrase "the whole shebang" where it means "any matter of present concern; thing; business", but the OED notes that this developed from an earlier group of uses:

1. a. A hut, shed; one's dwelling, quarters. b. Applied to a vehicle. c. A low drinking establishment, a tavern.

with first citation from 1862 (quoted by Roaring fish in another answer).

So this question is a fascinating example of the recency illusion.

  • Do you have any evidence for “this question is a fascinating example”, or is that just an unsupported assertion? – James Waldby - jwpat7 Aug 30 '12 at 16:29
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    I'm not entirely sure what you're hoping for me to say here, but "example" is justified by the text of the question (OP considers possibility that shebang has a recent origin in computer terminology despite appearing in a phrase where its meaning is opaque); and "fascinating" is my own personal opinion. – Gareth Rees Aug 30 '12 at 16:59


shebang, n.
Pronunciation: /ʃɪˈbæŋ/
Forms: Also †chebang, shee-bang.
Etymology: Of obscure origin.

If OED doesn't know the origin asking EL&U is a bit optimistic, but note that it was around in 1862

  • 1862 W. Whitman Jrnl. 23–31 Dec. in Specimen Days (1882–3) 27 Their shebang enclosures of bushes.

which was long before Unix.

  • It’s sense 3 from the OED which here applies, not sense 1 which your citation is from. – tchrist Aug 30 '12 at 15:11
  • My OED has only two senses. The first is a building or vehicle, the second is "2. ‘More widely, almost any matter of present concern". What do you have for sense 3? – Roaring Fish Aug 30 '12 at 15:16
  • Sorry, I meant sense 2. The one whose first citation is Twain. – tchrist Aug 30 '12 at 15:35

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