Word of the Day : October 29, 2018


noun SHAM-bulz


1 : slaughterhouse

2 a : a place of mass slaughter or bloodshed

b : a scene or a state of great destruction : wreckage

c : a scene or a state of great disorder or confusion

d : great confusion : mess

Did You Know?

How does a word meaning "footstool" turn into a word meaning "mess"? Start with the Latin scamillum, meaning "little bench." Modify the spelling and you get the Old English sceamol, meaning "footstool" or "a table used for counting money or exhibiting goods." Alter again to the Middle English shameles, and the meaning can easily become more specific: "a table for the exhibition of meat for sale." Pluralize and you have the base of the 15th-century term shambles, meaning "meat market." A century takes shambles from "meat market" to "slaughterhouse," then to figurative use referring to a place of terrible slaughter or bloodshed (say, a battlefield). The scene of a slaughter can get messy, so it's logical for the word to pick up the modern sense "mess" or "state of great confusion." Transition accomplished.


"The scene is reminiscent of the opening of the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Indiana Jones flees a cave half a step ahead of a giant boulder. Instead of running from a rock, Croft spends the game running through a city that crumbles around her as the world is reduced to shambles." — Bob Fekete, Newsweek, 21 Sept. 2018 

"Career success does not exist in a vacuum. If the home life is a mess and the children and bills and house are in shambles, then it's very hard, if not impossible, to succeed at work." — Dr. Gail Saltz, quoted in Psychology Today, 1 May 2018

Name That Synonym

Fill in the blanks to complete a synonym of shambles meaning a state of disorder: w _ l _ e _.



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