ram·​shack·​le | \ ˈram-ˌsha-kəl How to pronounce ramshackle (audio) \

Definition of ramshackle

1 : appearing ready to collapse : rickety
2 : carelessly or loosely constructed a ramshackle plot

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The Evolution of Ramshackle

Ramshackle has nothing to do with rams, nor the act of being rammed, nor shackles. The word is an alteration of ransackled, an obsolete form of the verb ransack, meaning "to search through or plunder." (Ransack in turn derives, via Middle English, from Old Norse words meaning "house" and "seek.") A home that has been ransacked has had its contents thrown into disarray, and that image may be what caused us to start using ramshackle in the first half of the 19th century to describe something that is poorly constructed or in a state of near collapse. These days, ramshackle can also be used figuratively, as in "He could only devise a ramshackle excuse for his absence."

Examples of ramshackle in a Sentence

The movie's ramshackle plot is confusing and not believable.
Recent Examples on the Web Instead, attendees were met with serious organizational flaws and ramshackle conditions, including flimsy tents and cheese sandwiches for meals. Joelle Goldstein, PEOPLE.com, 22 July 2021 The gravel road leading to Sass Winery is dusty and dotted with ramshackle farmhouses and scurrying quail. Michael Alberty | For The Oregonian/oregonlive, oregonlive, 1 July 2021 The ramshackle planet of Torren IV will test players' ability to grind across rails as the Fixer, a building-sized robot, tries to smash Rivet and Clank. Gieson Cacho Tribune News Service, Star Tribune, 30 June 2021 Marville traced the urban growth of Paris, from ramshackle construction sites to burgeoning neighborhoods, desolate outskirts and how quickly Paris modernized in the mid 19th century. Nadja Sayej, Forbes, 7 June 2021 In both neighborhoods, Jewish newcomers hoist giant Israeli flags over fortified ramshackle buildings only feet or inches from Palestinian neighbors. Laura King, Los Angeles Times, 30 May 2021 The same could be said for In the Heights itself, which achieves a ramshackle beauty all its own. Bilge Ebiri, Vulture, 10 June 2021 Luke lived in Los Angeles’ Hancock Park, in a ramshackle house that felt like the setting of a film noir classic. Michael Granberry, Dallas News, 3 June 2021 Five miles out stands a cluster of ramshackle dwellings: Puerto Rey. Anthony Faiola, Washington Post, 29 May 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'ramshackle.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of ramshackle

1830, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for ramshackle

alteration of earlier ransackled, from past participle of obsolete ransackle, frequentative of ransack

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Time Traveler for ramshackle

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The first known use of ramshackle was in 1830

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Last Updated

26 Jul 2021

Cite this Entry

“Ramshackle.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ramshackle. Accessed 31 Jul. 2021.

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More Definitions for ramshackle



English Language Learners Definition of ramshackle

: in a very bad condition and needing to be repaired
: not carefully made or put together


ram·​shack·​le | \ ˈram-ˌsha-kəl How to pronounce ramshackle (audio) \

Kids Definition of ramshackle

: ready to fall down a ramshackle barn


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