/ (ˈʃæmbəlz) /
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noun (functioning as singular or plural)
a place of great disorderthe room was a shambles after the party
a place where animals are brought to be slaughtered
any place of slaughter or carnage
British dialect a row of covered stalls or shops where goods, originally meat, are sold
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Word Origin for shambles

C14 shamble table used by meat vendors, from Old English sceamel stool, from Late Latin scamellum a small bench, from Latin scamnum stool
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


What does shambles mean?

A shambles is a place, situation, or other thing that’s in complete disorder.

When shambles refers to a place, it typically indicates that it’s a mess or, more seriously, that it’s a scene of destruction, wreckage, or even carnage. When it refers to a situation, it indicates that it has fallen into chaos.

The word is especially used in the phrase in shambles or in a shambles. Shambles can be considered singular or plural (meaning it can be used with a singular or plural verb).

Originally, shambles refer to a slaughterhouse or a place where meat is sold (more about that later).

Example: I have a puppy and three toddlers, so my house is frequently in shambles.

Where does shambles come from?

It may be surprising that a word associated with utter chaos derives from a word simply meaning “stool” or “table”—the Middle English shamel, ultimately from the Latin scamnum, “bench”. (The verb shamble, meaning “to shuffle or walk awkwardly,” derives from the same root, perhaps in reference to the legs of such tables.) The first records of shambles come from before the 900s, and back then the word simply referred to a stool. It came to be used to refer to a table where goods were sold. Then, it became associated with tables specifically used to display meats for sale. Later, it came to be used to mean “a meat market” and then “a slaughterhouse.” From there, it got more figurative, referring to a scene of carnage—like a battlefield after a battle. Eventually, it took on meanings referring to destruction, devastation, ruin, disorder, and extreme messiness.

Shambles is still sometimes used to refer to scenes of carnage or destruction, such as a city that’s been heavily damaged by a natural disaster like an earthquake or hurricane. More commonly, shambles is applied to scenes or situations involving disorder. An economy that’s said to be inshambles is one that is not functioning at all as it should, such as during the Great Depression. A company that’s a shambles is in complete disarray, and perhaps on the verge of bankruptcy. If someone says their life is in shambles, they mean it’s chaotic—nothing is going right. Perhaps most commonly and least seriously, shambles is simply used to refer to a mess. A person might refer to their house as a shambles during a renovation project or simply when it’s messy because it hasn’t been tidied up or organized in a long time.

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What are some synonyms for shambles?

What are some words that share a root or word element with shambles


What are some words that often get used in discussing shambles?

How is shambles used in real life?

Shambles can be applied to both tangible things, like ruins, and intangible things, like the economy or someone’s life. It’s most often used in the phrases is a shambles or is in shambles.



Try using shambles!

Which of the following would NOT be considered a shambles?

A. a heavily damaged house
B. an incredibly messy garage
C. a brand new car
D. a strategy that has fallen into chaos

How to use shambles in a sentence