Printable Version
Pronunciation: skræm-bêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. To clamber quickly and ungracefully, to hurry in an awkward fashion or in complete disarray, as 'everyone scrambled to their cars'. 2. To stir up, to mix different things together, make something jumbled or muddled as 'to scramble eggs'. 3. To encode, as 'to scramble a telephone message'.

Notes: Scramble implies moving quickly, either mixing or spreading in all directions. This word is pure English: only its participles, scrambling and scrambled, are available for general use as adjectives, and the verb by itself may be used as a noun, a scramble. However, a marginally used adjective is also available: scrambly "that scrambles or clambers", a perfectly English derivation.

In Play: This word may be used literally: "At the first whiff of smoke, everyone scrambled out of the house." Though it may be also used figuratively: "Mildred was so excited, she scrambled her speech so much that no one could understand her."

Word History: We don't know for sure where scramble came from; it is probably a nasalized variant of scrabble in its sense of "to scrawl, make random marks, scribble." Scram is, no doubt, a reduction of scramble, under the influence of German schramm! "scram!", the imperative of schrammen "to scratch, scrape". Scram first appeared in print in 1928, close enough to World War I for this educated guess to make sense. Ten years is not an unusual period of time to intervene between verbal usage and the first appearance of a word in print. English also had a verb cramble "to creep about with many turns and twists". It has the sense of "many directions", but lacks the implication of speed. (Let's now scramble to thank Eileen Opiolka for recommending today's common but uncommonly Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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