October 20, 2022


Shambles is an odd word. It is a noun that is plural in form but can be either singular or plural in meaning. The word is frequently misused, largely, I suspect, because people are confused about what the word really means. That is to say, they have no idea what it means.

I often hear people say something like “the room is in shambles.”  This is an improper use of the word, but everyone knows what the speaker means—the room is a chaotic mess.

The basic meaning of shambles is “slaughterhouse.” By extension, it can refer to a scene of slaughter or bloodshed —a Civil War battlefield perhaps—or, by somewhat greater extension, a chaotic mess. It would be perfectly correct to say that “the room is a shambles.”

In shambles, however, makes no sense. In a shambles would make sense but likely wouldn’t mean what the speaker thinks it does. There is, by the way, no such thing as a shamble. (The verb to shamble, on the other hand, means to walk clumsily with dragging feet. The verb is unrelated to shambles.)

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