Printable Version
Pronunciation: dis-kêm-bah-byê-layt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: (Humorous slang) To confuse, befuddle, disconcert or disorient; to throw into mental disarray.

Notes: Current dictionaries are still reluctant to discuss the family of this common, but still funny word. The action noun for this verb is discombobulation, which suffices to demonstrate that the word is fully Latinized. This means that derivations like discombobulator, discombobulative, and discombobulable are completely legitimate, even though they rankle my spellchecker.

In Play: A discombobulative situation would be one in which you wish to indicate befuddlement and get a smile at the same time: "Well, I'm a little discombobulated right now, and can't think of an alternative to discombobulate." It is not a word you would use in a job interview, but elsewhere use it with relish: "When he is in England, Cedric often becomes discombobulated and drives in the right lane." Well, at least he is still with us.

Word History: As with laws of state, we have devised many ways to circumvent the laws of grammar. This funny word probably dropped from someone's lips when they were searching futilely for a word like discompose, which they mixed up with bobble, then added the Latin suffix -ate in an effort to cover their tracks. The result is so amusing, however, that it will continue to be repeated so long as it gets a smile each time it is uttered. It first appeared in print in the mid 1930s in the New York Sun, making it clear that it is another one of those crazy US lexical concoctions.

Dr. Goodword,

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