[sham-buh l]


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 shamble

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]

verb (used without object), sham·bled, sham·bling.

to walk or go awkwardly; shuffle.


a shambling gait.

Origin of shamble

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 Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for shambles

Contemporary Examples of shambles

Historical Examples of shambles

  • 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.


    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 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

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



(intr) to walk or move along in an awkward or unsteady way


an awkward or unsteady walk
Derived Formsshambling, adjective, noun

Word Origin for shamble

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

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