Printable Version
Pronunciation: shæm-bah-lik Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: (Colloquial) Chaotic, disorderly, disorganized.

Notes: Today's Good Word rarely emerges among speakers raised in the US. It is a particularly British bit of slang, but certainly deserving wider circulation in colloquial English. It is so new (1970s) that it has had no time to develop a family, though I suppose an adverb shambolically could be used without fear of severe chastisement.

In Play: As the history will reveal, today's Good Word is related to shambles in both sound and meaning. However, the two do differ in that shambles implies a rickety object near collapse, whereas shambolic implies only disorganization: "Hardy Hacker's study appears shambolic to the untrained eye, but he can find anything he needs to write a pristine program in seconds." If your mother is distraught over the messiness of your room, this word might calm her worries for a while: "Mom, I admit that my room is a bit shambolic, but it is not in complete shambles."

Word History: Today's Good Word is either shambles itself or its seldom used adjective, shambly, dressed up to fit in with words like symbolic, metabolic, and the like. It first appeared in the London Times in 1970, but no doubt was out in the patois long before that year. Shambles comes from Old English scamel "counter, table for conducting business". It is used in the plural because by Middle English it was being used to refer to a meat or fish market, where there were many such counters or tables. The Old English word apparently slipped into earlier Old Germanic from Latin scamillum "low stool". (I hope this treatment of Tony Bowden's Good Word suggestion is not too shambolic to fully comprehend and appreciate.)

Dr. Goodword,

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