Etymology
Advertisement
shenanigan (n.)

"nonsense; deceit, humbug," 1855, American English slang, of uncertain origin. Earliest records of it are in California (San Francisco and Sacramento). Suggestions include Spanish chanada, a shortened form of charranada "trick, deceit;" or, less likely, German Schenigelei, peddler's argot for "work, craft," or the related German slang verb schinäglen. Another guess centers on Irish sionnach "fox," and the form is perhaps conformed to an Irish surname.

Related entries & more 
Advertisement
zilch (n.)

"nothing," 1957; "insignificant person," 1933, from use of Zilch as a generic comical-sounding surname for an insignificant person (especially Joe Zilch). There was a Mr. Zilch (1931), comic character in the magazine "Ballyhoo," and the use perhaps originated c. 1922 in U.S. college or theater slang. Probably a nonsense syllable, suggestive of the end of the alphabet, but Zilch is an actual German surname of Slavic origin.

The [Cadence] agency aims to have each album cover actually promote the record, on the theory that "the day of pretty, boffy, zoomy and zingy covers for the sake of zilch is no more." [Billboard, Oct. 28, 1957]
Related entries & more 
limerick (n.)

type of nonsense verse of five lines, 1896, perhaps from the county and city of Limerick in Ireland, but if so the connection is obscure. Often (after OED's Murray) attributed to a party game in which each guest in turn made up a nonsense verse and all sang a refrain with the line "Will you come up to Limerick?" but he reported this in 1898 and earlier evidence is wanting. Or perhaps from Learic, from Edward Lear (1812-1888) English humorist who popularized the form. Earliest examples are in French, which further complicates the quest for the origin. OED's first record of the word is in a letter of Aubrey Beardsley.

The limerick may be the only traditional form in English not borrowed from the poetry of another language. ... John Ciardi suggests that the Irish Brigade, which served in France for most of the eighteenth century, might have taken the form to France or developed an English version of a French form. ... The contemporary limerick usually depends on a pun or some other turn of wit. It is also likely to be somewhat suggestive or downright dirty. [Miller Williams, "Patterns of Poetry," Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1986]

The place name is literally "bare ground," from Irish Liumneach, from lom "bare, thin." It was famous for hooks.

Related entries & more 
Smurf (n.)

by 1979 (when toys were launched for the English language market by the Wallace Berrie company). The comic characters by Belgian artist Peyo first appeared in 1958 as Les Schtroumpfs. The name, and the language of the Schtroumpfs, were said to have developed after Peyo momentarily forgot the word for "salt-shaker," and said schtroumpf (a nonsense word), and from there he and his friend began jokingly replacing words with schtroumpf. Most languages seem to invent their own words for the creatures of the comics, but the Dutch translation Smurf was carried on into English. 

Related entries & more 
bunk (n.2)

"nonsense," 1900, short for bunkum, phonetic spelling of Buncombe, a county in North Carolina. The usual story (attested by 1841) of its origin is this: At the close of the protracted Missouri statehood debates in the U.S. Congress, supposedly on Feb. 25, 1820, North Carolina Rep. Felix Walker (1753-1828) began what promised to be a "long, dull, irrelevant speech," and he resisted calls to cut it short by saying he was bound to say something that could appear in the newspapers in the home district and prove he was on the job. "I shall not be speaking to the House," he confessed, "but to Buncombe." Thus Bunkum has been American English slang for "nonsense" since 1841 (it is attested from 1838 as generic for "a U.S. Representative's home district").

MR. WALKER, of North Carolina, rose then to address the Committee on the question [of Missouri statehood]; but the question was called for so clamorously and so perseveringly that Mr. W. could proceed no farther than to move that the committee rise. [Annals of Congress, House of Representatives, 16th Congress, 1st Session, p. 1539]
"Well, when a critter talks for talk sake, jist to have a speech in the paper to send to home, and not for any other airthly puppus but electioneering, our folks call it Bunkum." [Thomas Chandler Haliburton, "Sam Slick in England," 1858]
Related entries & more 
Advertisement
runcible 

1871, a nonsense word coined by Edward Lear in "The Owl & the Pussy-Cat" (runcible spoon). The phrase runcible spoon has been used since 1926 for "spoon with three short tines like a fork," but OED writes that "the illustrations provided by himself for his books of verse give no warrant for this later interpretation."

As for Lear's inspiration for the word, suspicion falls on runcival, a contemporary variant of the old word rounceval "something big and loud," which is said to be from Roncevaux (French Rouncesvalles), the pass in the Pyrenees where Roland fell in battle.

Related entries & more 
fuss (n.)

"trifling bustle," 1701, originally colloquial, perhaps an alteration of force (n.), or "echoic of the sound of something sputtering or bubbling" [OED], or from Danish fjas "foolery, nonsense." First attested in Anglo-Irish writers, but there are no obvious connections to words in Irish. To make a fuss was earlier to keep a fuss (1726). Fuss and feathers "bustle and display" is from 1848, American English, suggestive of a game cock or a peacock, originally of U.S. Army Gen. Winfield Scott (1786-1866) in the Mexican-American War.

Gen. Scott is said to be as particular in matters of etiquette and dress as Gen. Taylor is careless. The soldiers call one "Old Rough and Ready," and the other "Old Fuss and Feathers." [The Mammoth, Nov. 15, 1848].
Related entries & more 
spinach (n.)

c. 1400 (late 13c. as a surname), from Anglo-French spinache, Old French espinache (14c., Modern French épinard, from a form with a different suffix), from Old Provençal espinarc, which perhaps is via Catalan espinac, from Andalusian Arabic isbinakh, from Arabic isbanakh, from Persian aspanakh "spinach." But OED is not convinced the Middle Eastern words are native, and based on the plethora of Romanic forms pronounces the origin "doubtful."

Popeye, the spinach-eating superman, debuted in 1929. Old folk etymology connected the word with Latin spina (see spine) or with Medieval Latin Hispanicum olus. For pronunciation, see cabbage. In 1930s colloquial American English, it had a sense of "nonsense, rubbish," based on a famous New Yorker cartoon of Dec. 8, 1928. Related: spinaceous.

Related entries & more 
trick (n.)

early 15c., "a cheat, a mean ruse," from Old North French trique "trick, deceit, treachery, cheating," from trikier "to deceive, to cheat," variant of Old French trichier "to cheat, trick, deceive," of uncertain origin, probably from Vulgar Latin *triccare, from Latin tricari "be evasive, shuffle," from tricæ "trifles, nonsense, a tangle of difficulties," of unknown origin.

Meaning "a roguish prank" is recorded from 1580s; sense of "the art of doing something" is first attested 1610s. Meaning "prostitute's client" is first attested 1915; earlier it was U.S. slang for "a robbery" (1865).

To do the trick "accomplish one's purpose" is from 1812; to miss a trick "fail to take advantage of opportunity" is from 1889; from 1872 in reference to playing the card-game of whist, which might be the original literal sense. Trick-or-treat as a children's Halloween pastime is recorded from 1927 in Canada. Trick question is from 1907.

Related entries & more 
hokey-pokey (n.)

1847, "false cheap material," perhaps an alteration of hocus-pocus, or from the nonsense chorus and title of a comic song (Hokey Pokey Whankey Fong) that was popular c. 1830. Applied especially to cheap ice cream sold by street vendors (1884). In Philadelphia, and perhaps other places, it meant shaved ice with artificial flavoring. The words also were the title of a Weber-Fields musical revue from 1912. The modern dance song of that name hit the U.S. in 1950 ("Life" described it Nov. 27, 1950, as "a tuneless stomp that is now sweeping the U.C.L.A. campus"). But a dance of that name, to a similar refrain, is mentioned in a 1943 magazine article (wherein the "correct" title is said to be Cokey Cokey), and the dance is sometimes said to have originated in Britain in World War II, perhaps from a Canadian source.

Related entries & more 

Page 6