What It Means
1 : in mingled confusion or disorder
2 : in confused haste
When the final bell of the day rang, the children bolted from their desks and streamed pell-mell out the door into the schoolyard.
"The grammar school dropout was forever on the move. There were times he bolted into the darkroom of his employer's photographic studio to hide from an approaching truant officer. More often, the errand boy ran pell-mell to the offices of New York City newspapers and magazines, lugging a pouch stuffed with the newsy photographs of the day…." — Bill Case, The Pilot (Southern Pines, North Carolina), 14 July 2019
Did You Know?
The word pell-mell was probably formed through a process called reduplication. The process—which involves the repetition of a word or part of a word, often including a slight change in its pronunciation—also generated such terms as bowwow, helter-skelter, flip-flop, and chitchat. Yet another product of reduplication is shilly-shally, which started out as a single-word compression of the question "Shall I?" For pell-mell, the process is believed to have occurred long ago: our word traces to a Middle French word of the same meaning, pelemele, which was likely a product of reduplication from Old French mesle, a form of mesler, meaning "to mix."
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