Printable Version
Pronunciation: shêf-êl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. To walk slowly while sliding the feet along the floor. 2. To mix up cards to randomize their order, to jumble, as to shuffle cards. 3. To rearrange randomly or in order, as to shuffle papers nervously or shuffle the office staff. 4. Move uncertainly or slowly, as to shuffle off to Buffalo or just shuffle off "to die".

Notes: Today's contributor, David Myer, wondered how shuffle came to have so many ostensibly unrelated meanings. I think I've figured it out and will explain in today's Word History. Shuffle seems to have been a purely Germanic word with an abstract noun and adjective, shuffling, and a personal noun, shuffler. The verb may be used as is for an action noun: a shuffle.

In Play: Here is an example containing two of the meanings of today's Good Word: "When you hear the Vice President for Personnel shuffling down the hall, we all know what's happening: the president received bad news about the company, so his response is to shuffle top management once again." I'll bet this word is used more in card games than any place else: "When you play cards with Les Cheatham, make sure he shuffles the cards well and isn't dealing off the bottom of the deck."

Word History: Shuffling The order of the meaning changes is reflected in Meaning above. The original meaning of the word is the first, because the word is a variation of Middle English shovelen, which went on to become (to) shovel. Shovelen may have resulted from a mispronunciation of Old English scufan "to push" (today shove) akin to Old High German scioban "to push". It is also the meaning shared by other Germanic languages: Low German schuffeln "to walk clumsily". The second meaning was based on the fact that shuffling feet sound like the mixing of cards by riffling them. Now, the results of shuffling cards is to rearrange them. The sense of rearrangement came about by analogy with the results of shuffling. (David Meyer's curiosity led to today's Good Word, for which we should all be grateful.)

Dr. Goodword,

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