DictionariesWhile browsing the Internet for the news I came across a sentence “Today this image of (Putin’s) respectability is in a shambles, lying in ruin by the shattered remains of Malaysian Airways Flight 17.

Being a grammar purist, I have always used the combination in shambles  (to combine the indefinite article with the plural number would be an egregious misfit :-)), that is why I made a research into the word shambles. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says that the word is plural, but may be both singular and plural in construction. So, it has eased my mind to know that I was right in saying in shambles <an economy in shambles>. The first known use of the word dates back to the 15th century. In those days it existed in the form shambil or shamel and meant place where meat is butchered or sold. However, originally the word had come into Anglo-Saxon as ceamol  table from Latin scabillum, diminutive of scamnum, bench, stool — serving as a seat, step, or support for the feet(a meaning innocent enough!). The Middle English compound shamelhouse meant slaughter house, a sense that the plural shambles developed (first recorded in 1548) along with the figurative sense a place or scene of bloodshed (first recorded in 1593). The present-day, more generalized meaning a scene or condition of disorder is first recorded in 1926. One of the recent components is dirtiness, through which the word joins the synonymic chain of the words dump, hellhole, pigsty, sty. The component out of order connects shambles with anarchy, lawlessness, misrule, tangle, mishmash, morass, hodgepodge (the antonyms being method, pattern, plan, system, order, orderliness).


It looks like the phrase in a shambles as it was used by the correspondent describing the scene of Flight MH17 crash (see above) has absorbed all the meaning shades the word shambles has accumulated through centuries.


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