in headlong and disorderly haste: The children ran helter-skelter all over the house.
in a haphazard manner; without regard for order: Clothes were scattered helter-skelter about the room.


carelessly hurried; confused: They ran in a mad, helter-skelter fashion for the exits.
disorderly; haphazard: Books and papers were scattered on the desk in a helter-skelter manner.


tumultuous disorder; confusion.

Origin of helter-skelter

1585–95; rhyming compound, perhaps based on *skelt, Middle English skelten to hasten (< ?); reduplication with initial h parallel to hubble-bubble, higgledy-piggledy, etc.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for helter-skelter

Historical Examples of helter-skelter

  • Nobody but he could have twisted and turned in such a helter-skelter fashion.

    The Tale of Kiddie Katydid

    Arthur Scott Bailey

  • Sometimes, but not very often, she threw them helter-skelter about the room.

    The Good Soldier

    Ford Madox Ford

  • I only know we ran quickly, helter-skelter, back home, back to Mazapevka.

    Jewish Children

    Sholem Naumovich Rabinovich

  • But this cannot be done by helter-skelter or haphazard administration.

  • She flung off her coat in a helter-skelter way, and rolled up her sleeves.

    A Spoil of Office

    Hamlin Garland

British Dictionary definitions for helter-skelter



haphazard or carelessly hurried


in a helter-skelter manner


British a high spiral slide, as at a fairground
disorder or haste

Word Origin for helter-skelter

C16: probably of imitative origin
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

Word Origin and History for helter-skelter

also helter skelter, 1590s, perhaps from skelte "to hasten, scatter hurriedly," with the first element there merely for the sake of rhyme. As an adjective from 1785.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper