Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Ramshackle

(Kind of like "Kentucky's ramshackle educational system teetered on the edge of collapse as state legislators once again refused to ensure the future success of the commonwealth.")





*1 : appearing ready to collapse : rickety
2 : carelessly or loosely constructed

“Ramshackle” has nothing to do with rams, nor the act of being rammed, nor shackles. The word is an alteration of “ransackled,” an obsolete form of the verb “ransack,” meaning “to search through or plunder.” (“Ransack” in turn derives, via Middle English, from Old Norse words meaning “house” and “seek.”) A home that has been ransacked has had its contents thrown into disarray, and that image may be what caused us to start using “ramshackle” in the first half of the 19th century to describe something that is poorly constructed or in a state of near collapse. These days, “ramshackle” can also be used figuratively, as in “He could only devise a ramshackle excuse for his absence."

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