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

Steinbeck’s earliest literary hit was, in fact, 1935’s Tortilla Flat, a collection of humorous stories that follow the escapades of a group of friends in the ramshackle hills above Monterey, California. Brigit Katz, Smithsonian, "A Steinbeck Story About a Chef and His Cat Has Been Published in English for the First Time," 1 Aug. 2019 Lastly, there is Muriel (Anne Reid), the grandmother who lives alone in a ramshackle house in Manchester where everybody gathers once a year, and then more frequently as the situation in the world begins to deteriorate. Tim Goodman, The Hollywood Reporter, "Critic's Notebook: HBO's 'Years and Years' Is Unsettling, But Needs to Be Seen," 31 July 2019 Two hours south east of Reno, ramshackle Walker Lake is nestled between the shimmering body of water that bears its name and the sprawling Wassuk Range, accessible only by a single road: U.S. Highway 95. Thomas Peele, The Mercury News, "Gilroy gunman holed up in isolated Nevada town where it’s easy to be anonymous," 30 July 2019 The city of Crystal Lake is seeking to tear down the ramshackle house where authorities say a 5-year-old boy was beaten to death, allegedly by his parents. Clifford Ward, chicagotribune.com, "Crystal Lake officials seek to have dilapidated, unoccupied family home of slain 5-year-old ‘AJ’ Freund torn down," 29 July 2019 Visual artists and lighting designers can trick you into believing you’re somewhere other than a ramshackle space in a desolate part of the city. Liz Ohanesian, Billboard, "Camera's Ready, Prepare to Flash: 10 Essential '90s Rave Jams," 11 July 2019 Winter weather on the Aegean was unpredictable, and the ramshackle crafts used by the smugglers often sank. Matthew Wolfe, Harper's magazine, "Without a Trace," 10 Feb. 2019 In ramshackle shelters and bus terminals, reporters at the southern border record the stories of undocumented immigrants crossing into the United States, hearing their plans to start new lives in every corner of America. Ed Lavandera, CNN, "Beyond the border: Tracking America's hidden workforce," 12 July 2019 Elrow’s ninth anniversary party is thumping at the global entertainment brand’s flagship venue, an outdoor-indoor compound with a ramshackle veneer that has mushroomed on a strip of dusty nowhere, not far from the airport here. Judy Cantor-navas, Billboard, "Spanish Party Company Elrow Pushes the Limits of EDM by Leaning on the Absurd," 10 July 2019

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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Statistics for ramshackle

Last Updated

7 Aug 2019

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Time Traveler for ramshackle

The first known use of ramshackle was in 1830

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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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More from Merriam-Webster on ramshackle

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with ramshackle

Spanish Central: Translation of ramshackle

Nglish: Translation of ramshackle for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of ramshackle for Arabic Speakers

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