Common red fox
Jans Canon/Wikimedia

Answer: A Fox

When your elders yelled at you to stop all those shenanigans—or mischief-making behavior—they were effectively telling you to stop acting like a wily fox.

The root of the word shenanigans is, given the age of the phrase and the potential contenders, murky at best. However, among all the contenders, the most compelling possibility due to it having a similar sound and context is the Irish expression “sionnachuighim”, which translates to “I play the fox”. It’s unsurprising that the Irish had an expression associating the fox with mischief-making and trickery since the fox features prominently in dozens of cultures around the world as a world-class mischief-maker.

In Finnish tales, the fox is a well-meaning trickster; in both Japanese and Korean folklore, foxes are mischievous and cunning spirits, and throughout both Western and Eastern literature, the fox appears repeatedly as a creature of great curiosity and mischief.





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