ram·​shack·​le ˈram-ˌsha-kəl How to pronounce ramshackle (audio)
: appearing ready to collapse : rickety
: carelessly or loosely constructed
a ramshackle plot

Did you know?

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 comes 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 inspired people 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. Ramshackle in modern use can also be figurative, as in "a ramshackle excuse for the error."

Examples of ramshackle in a Sentence

The movie's ramshackle plot is confusing and not believable.
Recent Examples on the Web Postwar Phnom Penh was a ramshackle city of squatters, hustlers, and beggars. Chantha Nguon, Condé Nast Traveler, 20 Feb. 2024 In a ramshackle Pennsylvania neighborhood during the 1920s and ’30s, Jewish and African American residents come together to hide an orphan from state officials. Becky Meloan, Washington Post, 10 Apr. 2024 The musical’s book by Rick Elice, based not just on the 2011 movie but also on the 2006 novel by Sara Gruen, is set among the performers and roustabouts of a ramshackle circus at the depths of the Depression. Jesse Green, New York Times, 21 Mar. 2024 Yoong and about 100 other dog-pushers were confined in a ramshackle complex of stilted, timber shacks with thatch roofs, which became their home for a month, subsisting on two daily meals of rice and vegetables while being feasted upon by mosquitos and assorted beasties. TIME, 21 Mar. 2024 Inside his ramshackle Westside home, Wally gingerly positioned his bony frame sideways on an armrest of his recliner and played the role of raconteur, narrating remarkable stories about our lineage. Erik Himmelsbach-Weinstein, Los Angeles Times, 7 Mar. 2024 This ramshackle beach bar has a handful of plastic tables out back overlooking the water, a few colorful hammocks, and next-level mojitos. Meagan Drillinger, Travel + Leisure, 1 Mar. 2024 The truth is that while parts of Moscow offer a small elite an opulent lifestyle, Russia as a whole is more than a bit ramshackle. Paul Krugman, The Mercury News, 22 Feb. 2024 The project area consists mostly of a ramshackle stretch of aging and sometimes vacant warehouse and industrial buildings, auto-body shops and empty lots, though a longstanding working-class neighborhood of single-family homes sits to its north. Andres Viglucci, Miami Herald, 11 Feb. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'ramshackle.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1830, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of ramshackle was in 1830


Dictionary Entries Near ramshackle

Cite this Entry

“Ramshackle.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ramshackle. Accessed 18 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


ram·​shack·​le ˈram-ˌshak-əl How to pronounce ramshackle (audio)
: looking ready to fall down
a ramshackle old barn
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!