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[sham-buh l] /ˈʃæm bəl/
shambles, (used with a singular or plural verb)
  1. a slaughterhouse.
  2. any place of carnage.
  3. any scene of destruction:
    to turn cities into shambles.
  4. any scene, place, or thing in disorder:
    Her desk is a shambles.
British Dialect. a butcher's shop or stall.
Origin of shamble1
before 900; Middle English shamel, Old English sc(e)amel stool, table < Late Latin scamellum, Latin scamillum, diminutive of Latin scamnum bench; compare German Schemel


[sham-buh l] /ˈʃæm bəl/
verb (used without object), shambled, shambling.
to walk or go awkwardly; shuffle.
a shambling gait.
1675-85; perhaps short for shamble-legs one that walks wide (i.e., as if straddling), reminiscent of the legs of a shamble1 (in earlier sense “butcher's table”) Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for shambles
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • He staggered back to his room like a bullock to its pen after it has had its death-blow in the shambles.

    The Christian Hall Caine
  • The place was become a shambles, and the very kennels ran with blood.

    The Tavern Knight Rafael Sabatini
  • And the shambles he had seen there couldn't have been done by human beings.

    Decision Frank M. Robinson
  • When asked what it was like in there Mr. Nicholas B. muttered the only word "shambles."

    Some Reminiscences Joseph Conrad
  • When asked what it was like in there, Mr. Nicholas B. muttered only the word "shambles."

    A Personal Record Joseph Conrad
British Dictionary definitions for shambles


noun (functioning as singular or pl)
a place of great disorder: the room was a shambles after the party
a place where animals are brought to be slaughtered
any place of slaughter or carnage
(Brit, dialect) a row of covered stalls or shops where goods, originally meat, are sold
Word Origin
C14 shamble table used by meat vendors, from Old English sceamel stool, from Late Latin scamellum a small bench, from Latin scamnum stool


(intransitive) to walk or move along in an awkward or unsteady way
an awkward or unsteady walk
Derived Forms
shambling, adjective, noun
Word Origin
C17: from shamble (adj) ungainly, perhaps from the phrase shamble legs legs resembling those of a meat vendor's table; see shambles
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for shambles

early 15c., "meat or fish market," from schamil "table, stall for vending" (c.1300), from Old English scamol, scomul "stool, footstool (also figurative); bench, table for vending," an early West Germanic borrowing (cf. Old Saxon skamel "stool," Middle Dutch schamel, Old High German scamel, German schemel, Danish skammel "footstool") from Latin scamillus "low stool, a little bench," ultimately a diminutive of scamnum "stool, bench," from PIE root *skabh- "to prop up, support." In English, sense evolved from "place where meat is sold" to "slaughterhouse" (1540s), then figuratively "place of butchery" (1590s), and generally "confusion, mess" (1901, usually in plural).



"to walk with a shuffling gait, walk awkwardly and unsteadily," 1680s, from an adjective meaning "ungainly, awkward" (c.1600), from shamble (n.) "table, bench" (see shambles), perhaps on the notion of the splayed legs of bench, or the way a worker sits astride it. Cf. French bancal "bow-legged, wobbly" (of furniture), properly "bench-legged," from banc "bench." The noun meaning "a shambling gait" is from 1828. Related: Shambled; shambling.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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