Where does the word “shambles” come from and What does shambles mean?

In its earliest sense in our language a shamble, although then spelled scomul, meant a stool.

By a roundabout course it had come from the Latin scamellum, a little bench. From stool, shamble became the name of the bench, table, or stall where meat was sold.

Then, although after the fifteenth century always spelled in plural form, through the constant association of shambles with the blood of meat, the meaning was extended to cover the place where animals were slaughtered for meat.

From this its meaning was further extended figuratively to any place of bloody slaughter, especially a place of widespread carnage, such as a battlefield.

But, because battles are usually accompanied by wholesale destruction, the word shambles acquired a still further figurative sense in World War II, when it was often used to designate the scenes of destruction brought about by the bombing of cities.

In the latter application blood or bloodshed is no longer essentially attached to the word, as it was for many centuries.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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