I do love a good shindig, don’t you? Maybe some dishes to dig into, glasses of shandy and Guinness, dancing to music you can dig with people you’ll take a shine to… Shell out a few shinplasters and frug the night away! Dig your shins into it! Whatever that means.
I guess dancing is like digging shins… somehow… Actually, shindig could as easily be a paleontological excavation (along with skulldig and ribdig and so on). But it’s not. And it could be a kick in the shins in repayment for some subtle dig. But it’s… well, actually, that’s the first recorded sense for shindig. But no one’s used it that way for 150 years, as far as I know, so we can ignore that in favour of the ‘party’ sense – and the other sense of a donnybrook, a knockabout, a brawl.
Duane Aubin suggested this word, and noted,
This is one of those words that just feels good in the mouth, to me anyway. It’s got an “upness” to it with its ascenders and dots lifting the i’s and lifting the eyes; “dig” offers that anchoring descender that provides a surprisingly and balancing crisp resolution to the exclusively voiced consonants…
Yup, I do like it too. It starts with the teeth close together and the tongue up front for the slushy splash of “sh,” then it presses onto the tongue tip softly and then hardening in “nd,” and finally slides to the back and digs in at “g.” The vowels are both mid-high front, requiring little movement of the tongue and none of the lips. The whole thing is like a rake’s progress at a pool party: splash and swim, relax into cushy chairs, fall asleep (or anyway become recumbent) at the back. It has arms up in the air h d, hands holding up lit lighters (or phones) as at a concert i i, and finally that g that is like the s getting loose and low.
So where does it come from? Not, it seems, simply from shin plus dig. Oh, those two words are undoubtedly the reason it took this final form from its previous, but this was likely a matter of plastic surgery, not creation ex nihilo. Before it was shindig, this word was (the evidence suggests) shindy. What was that? The noun that was, before that, shinty. Oh, so what was that? The noun that was, before that, shinny.
Which, according to the OED, is basically field hockey, although in Canada it’s informal generally rule-free hockey played on ponds or streets or occasionally on cheap rec ice. Oh, and where does the word shinny come from? It seems to be based on some shout by the players of the old field hockey game, “Shin ye!” – that’s really helpful, now, isn’t it.
The shin, in any event, appears to come from the lower leg bone. So it’s pulled away from its direct sense and come back around to it again. Can you dig that?