One of my favourite words in the English language. It means chaotic, highly disorganised, messy, confused.

How was the charity fair?

Shambolic. No one seemed to be in charge, tables all over the place, people who didn’t know where to go. Manic children running everywhere. It took ages to more or less get going such was the disorder.


The noun is shambles and can be used to describe a situation or a scene that is a total mess.  Despite it’s final ´s´, it is used in the singular, i.e.. a shambles

The beauty contest was a shambles.  Clearly they hadn’t rehearsed anything, you couldn’t hear the MC because of the shouting of the protesters and when they came to put the tiara on Miss Cherry Blossom, they got the wrong girl!

Interestingly, the word used to refer in British English to a slaughterhouse and to the mess in the place where the animals were killed.


Although it is informal, there are no taboos on use, unlike an Argentine Spanish word of similar meaning, quilombo, that not everyone is comfortable using, as it used to refer to a brothel.  Interesting where each culture finds a mess!

In New Zealand I found the word in quite common use when I was growing up and much less so when I went to Britain. However, it is appearing in both British and American press lately to describe aspects of their turbulent political scenes.