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 Reporters from all the major news sites huddle under tents erected on the roofs of a cluster of ramshackle newsrooms built during the Apollo era. Daniel Oberhaus, Wired, "SpaceX Launched Two Astronauts—Changing Spaceflight Forever," 30 May 2020 At the time Costa was filming, though, this community was being torn apart, its ramshackle homes leveled by demolition crews sent to clear the slums. Will Noah, The New York Review of Books, "Pedro Costa, Filming the Saga of Lisbon’s Cabo Verdeans," 3 Mar. 2020 How to watch: Rent from various outlets A breakout debut for its French directors, Delicatessen laid out an aesthetic that would dominate movie design throughout the ’90s, a steampunk future with a ramshackle DIY quality to its technology. David Sims, The Atlantic, "22 Movies About the End of the World to Watch Now," 18 Apr. 2020 And still others are spending new time at home staring at that ramshackle fence, empty flower bed or tired backyard deck and have decided it’s past time to spruce things up a bit. Richard A. Marini, ExpressNews.com, "A coronavirus silver lining: More time at home to tackle garden projects and spruce up the landscape," 18 Apr. 2020 Many of the artists had pulled out due to serious organizational flaws and ramshackle conditions. Lindsay Kimble, PEOPLE.com, "Fyre Festival's Billy McFarland Is Asking for Early Prison Release Over COVID-19 Fears," 16 Apr. 2020 My house is old, built in 1902, so the canopy lends it a vaguely William Gibsonian aesthetic: a ramshackle blend of vinyl siding, snaky wiring, and dark promise. Clive Thompson, Wired, "Solar Panels Could Be the Best Fad Ever," 1 Apr. 2020 The action plays out mostly in ramshackle hutches or thick vegetation, and Reichardt’s visual approach relies on her usual naturalism. David Sims, The Atlantic, "The Film That You Might Not Hear About but Have to See," 10 Mar. 2020 One continually marvels at the spare, unmuddied jazz of a Vonnegut sentence and too often despairs of his ramshackle plots. New York Times, "Considering Kurt Vonnegut and Who Survives," 27 Mar. 2020

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

Time Traveler

The first known use of ramshackle was in 1830

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Last Updated

19 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Ramshackle.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ramshackle. Accessed 15 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for ramshackle


How to pronounce ramshackle (audio)

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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