sham·​bles ˈsham-bəlz How to pronounce shambles (audio)
plural in form but singular or plural in construction
archaic : a meat market
: a place of mass slaughter or bloodshed
the battlefield became a shambles
: a scene or a state of great destruction : wreckage
the city was a shambles after the bombing
: a scene or a state of great disorder or confusion
an economy in shambles
: great confusion : mess

Did you know?

The story of shambles appears to be a bit of a shambles: somehow, a word meaning "footstool" gave us a word meaning "mess." It all starts with the Latin word scamillum, the diminutive of scamnum, meaning "stool, bench." Modify the spelling and you get the Old English word sceamol, meaning "stool." Alter again to the Middle English word shameles (the plural of schamel), and give it a more specific meaning: "a vendor’s table." Tweak that a little and you arrive at the 15th-century term shambles, meaning "meat market." A century or so takes shambles from "meat market" to "slaughterhouse," then to figurative application as a term referring to a place of terrible slaughter or bloodshed (say, a battlefield). The grim connotations fade over time, but the messiness remains, and voilà: the modern sense of shambles meaning "mess" or "state of great confusion." Transition accomplished!

Examples of shambles in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Faced with sanctions, no reconstruction aid from international donors and its own economy in shambles, rebuilding has been piecemeal and limited. Hwaida Saad, New York Times, 6 Feb. 2023 Now Italian soccer is in shambles while La Liga remains profoundly top-heavy, thanks in part to the imbalanced international broadcasting deals that had dominated it until recently. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 4 Feb. 2023 The rioters made quick work of devastating much of the Supreme Court, leaving the courtroom where justices decide cases in shambles. Simon Romero, New York Times, 13 Jan. 2023 In one clip, pulled from a video timestamped after her altercation with police, a woman who appears to be Starer descends the Capitol steps in shambles, no pom-pom beanie in sight. Hanna Krueger,, 7 Jan. 2023 While many parts of Northern California escaped major damage, some coastal areas were swamped by high surf and flooding that left beaches in shambles. Los Angeles Times, 6 Jan. 2023 Beachum, the only starter left on the offensive line that has been left in shambles by injuries, has thoughts on that, too. Greg Moore, The Arizona Republic, 8 Dec. 2022 But the Astros have been a constant for me, right through the scandal that left them in a humiliated shambles. Bruce Jenkins, San Francisco Chronicle, 12 Nov. 2022 Inevitably, some draftees have already been killed or captured, stirring ever harsher criticism of the mobilization effort announced on Sept. 21 and considered a shambles from the start. Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, 16 Oct. 2022

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

Word History


Middle English shameles, plural of schamel vendor's table, footstool, from Old English sceamol stool, from Latin scamillum, diminutive of scamnum stool, bench; perhaps akin to Sanskrit skambha pillar

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of shambles was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near shambles

Cite this Entry

“Shambles.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


noun singular or plural
sham·​bles ˈsham-bəlz How to pronounce shambles (audio)
: a place or state of destruction
the hurricane left the city in a shambles
: a scene or state of disorder or confusion : mess
this room is a shambles
an economy in shambles

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