Definition of shambles in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈSHambəlz/

plural noun

[treated as singular]
1 informal A state of total disorder: my career was in a shambles
More example sentences
  • I think the border is in a shambles of smuggling, pollution, contagious diseases.
  • I don't want to come home and find my half in a shambles.
  • In 1853, Louisa Dalton Bird Cunningham was aboard a steamer on the Potomac sailing from Philadelphia to her plantation in South Carolina when she saw Mount Vernon in a shambles.
chaos, mess, muddle, confusion, disorder, havoc, mare's nest
informal dog's breakfast, train wreck
mess, pigsty
informal disaster area
2A butcher’s slaughterhouse (archaic except in place names).
Example sentences
  • The butchers' shambles, where animals were slaughtered and sold on Sundays, abutted the courthouse.
  • Adjacent land was added to the market in the 1360s to bring butchers' stalls together into one spot as a shambles.
2.1A scene of carnage: the room was a shambles—their throats had been cut and they lay in a waste of blood


Late Middle English (in the sense 'meat market'): plural of earlier shamble 'stool, stall', from Latin scamellum, diminutive of scamnum 'bench'.

  • ‘He was felled like an ox in the butcher's shambles’, writes Charles Dickens in Barnaby Rudge (1841). The writer is referring not to a state of chaos but to a slaughterhouse. Over the period of a thousand years shambles, from Latin scamnum ‘a bench’, has moved from being ‘a stool’ and ‘a counter for displaying goods for sale’, to ‘a state of total disorder’. The link lies in covered butchers' stalls in market places, a use which in Britain survives in street names, notably the Shambles in York, a narrow winding medieval street. In the mid 16th century a shambles became also ‘a place for slaughtering animals for meat’, and later in the same century ‘a place of carnage’. The less bloody modern sense did not appear until the 20th century, in the USA. As a description of ungainly movement, to shamble may derive from shamble legs, a description of misshapen legs that probably refers to the splayed legs of the trestles of a butcher's stall

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: sham·bles

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