shambles

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shambles

Post by Archived Topic » Wed Dec 15, 2004 3:54 pm

I was reading ‘Bee Season’ (2000) by Myla Goldberg, which at least by page 83, is proving to be a jewel of a story, when I came across the following: “ . . . . the priest shambles toward him in that slow but inevitable ‘Night of the Living Dead’ way.

Most of us are probably familiar with the noun ‘shambles’ – but the verb ‘shamble’? Anyway, when I began to do some digging the etymology turned out to be pretty interesting.

The noun SHAMBLES/SHAMBLE that I always knew and loved and which was mostly preceded by ‘a’ meant a) the scene or condition of complete disorder or ruin. <His finances were in a shambles> <They turned cities into shambles> b) great clutter or jumble, a total mess. <My son’s room was in a shambles>. The rest of the noun meanings that I was not as familiar with includes: c) a place or scene of bloodshed and carnage <There position became a shambles, every soldier being killed or wounded> d) a slaughter house. e) British Dialect: a butcher shop or stall.

It’s a long way from ‘footstool’ to a ‘mess’ and ‘a funny kind of walk,’ but such is the etymology of ‘shamble.’ However, it is not a tortured path, and the drastic shift in meaning followed a fairly logical and orderly path. The Old English ‘scamul/scamel’ is presumed to be derived ultimately from the Latin ‘scamellum,’ little bench. In Old English ‘scamul’ was used to mean both ‘a footstool’ and ‘a table used for counting money or exhibiting goods.’ The Middle English derivative ‘shamel’ and its later form ‘shamble’ acquired the specific senses of ‘a table or stall for the exhibition of meat for sale,’ which in turn gave rise in the 15th century to a use of the plural ‘shamels’ and ‘shambles,’ with the meaning ‘a meat market.’ The ‘shamels’ spelling soon died out, and the next extension in meaning occurred in the 16th century, when ‘shambles’ came to mean ‘slaughterhouse.’ It was from this sense that the figurative use developed soon after to refer to a place of terrible slaughter or bloodshed.

In the 20th century, SHAMBLES underwent two further extensions of meaning. Probably because a place of terrible slaughter, such as a battlefield or a besieged city, is also a place of great destruction and disorder, ‘shambles’ acquired the senses of ‘a scene of great destruction’ and ‘a scene of great disorder or confusion – a mess.`

The verb SHAMBLE means to walk with an awkward ungainly gate, to walk awkwardly unsteadily, often with dragging feet, shuffle or to move awkwardly. <A crab shambled across the bottom of the tidepool>. This verb first appeared in 1681 and is believed to have derived from the expression ‘shamble-legs,’ ungainly legs or one who walked wide (i.e. as if straddling), reminiscent of the legs of a shamble (a footstool).
<1593 “The Infidell-Romaines . ...shall invade thee, and make thy Citty . . . a SHAMBLES of dead bodies.”—“Christ’s Tears Over Jerusalem: by Nashe, page 12b>

<1794 “I've fear'd him, since his iron heart endured To make of Lyons one vast human SHAMBLES.”—‘Robespierre’ by Coleridge, I. i. page 79>

<1837 “Jinks . . . SHAMBLED to a seat, and proceeded to write it down.”—‘Pickwick Papers’ by Dickens, xxiv>

<1926 “Once more his laboratory became a SHAMBLES of cluttered flasks and hurrying assistants.”—‘Microbe Hunters’ by P. H. De Kruif, III. iv. page 83>
Note: During the period of history preceding the Civil War, the term also signified a slave market
<1852 “An older sister went to SHAMBLES to plead with the wretch . . . to spare his victims.”—“Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ by Harriet Beecher Stowe>
(Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories, Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology, Ayto’s Dictionary of Word Origins)
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Ken G – December 11, 2004
Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins - Colorado - U.S.A.)
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shambles

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Dec 15, 2004 4:07 pm

Ken,
You may be interested to note that The Shambles is also a street in Yorkshire England.
Here's what http://www.britainexpress.com/cities/york/shambles.htm
has to say about it.
The Shambles is often called Europe's best preserved medieval street, although the name is also used to collectively refer to the surrounding maze of narrow, twisting lanes and alleys as well. The street itself is mentioned in the Domesday Book, so we know that it has been in continuous existence for over 900 years.
The Shambles has the effect of a time machine, transporting you back to the Elizabethan period. The houses that jostle for space along The Shambles project out over the lane in their upper stories, as if trying to meet their neighbours opposite.

In some places the street is so narrow that if you stand with arms outstretched you can touch the houses on both sides.

The name "Shambles" comes from the Saxon "Fleshammels", which means, "the street of the butchers", for it was here that the city's butcher's market was located. Notice the wide window sills of the houses; the meat for sale was displayed here.

The butcher's shops have now been replaced with shops catering to visitors, including jewelry and antiques; indeed, the Shambles is now one of the premier shopping areas in the city of York.

One building of note in The Shambles is the home of Margaret Clitherow. She was arrested in 1586 on the charge of harbouring Catholic priests. To make matters worse, she had regular Masses said in her house, and hid clergy vestments there.
The authorities condemned her to death by pressing (crushing beneath a heavy weight). Margaret Clitherow was canonized in 1970, and her home is now a shrine.

Reply from Leighton Harris (Cambridge - England)
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shambles

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Dec 15, 2004 4:34 pm

I'd come across this word before in modern useage, but just assumed that it was a hybrid...a cross between shuffling and ambling. Thanks for the enlightenment.
Incidentally, the last time I was in York, The Shambles had become anything but a shambles. Or perhaps it had in terms of its having been spoiled. It was like a fake Hollywood set, a tiny narrow street with cobblestones and the upper stories wider than the lower. BUT it was a blaze of spotlights and fairy-lights and littered with Gifte Shoppes and quainte tea rooms. Plus it looked brand new. Gleaming polymer colours and whitewash everywhere. At least a film set would have made an attempt to make it look medieval!
R
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shambles

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Dec 15, 2004 4:47 pm

Ken >> "This verb first appeared in 1681 and is believed to have derived from the expression ‘shamble-legs,’ ungainly legs or one who walked wide (i.e. as if straddling), reminiscent of the legs of a shamble (a footstool)." >> I would've thought that that the shamble walk referred to the gait of a person carrying a carcass in a slaughterhouse .. if you have ever watched butchers carry sides of beef over one shoulder they do affect a gait that now might be described as shambling .. and the "slaughterhouse" meaning was in use by 1681 ..
WoZ of Aus 13/12/04

Reply from Wizard of Oz (Newcastle - Australia)
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shambles

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Dec 15, 2004 5:01 pm

Wiz, After doing a little more checking on the verb ‘shamble,’ I found that Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary says “from the use of the expression ‘shamble legs’ to refer to a person's legs resembling those of such a table.” Since they don’t say that the origin is uncertain, or it is believed that, or some people think that, or it is perhaps from, which they often do – and which Random House does in this instance – I guess that I would assume M-W has information that R-H doesn’t have. For example, they may have found that the expression ‘shamble legs’ existed before ‘shamble(s)’ took on the meaning of slaughterhouse, so that your interpretation might not have been possible. Thus, although your explanation sounds reasonable and it is possible that some people in days of yore thought of the word in those terms, I would have to go with M-W’s positive statement.
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Ken – December 12, 2004
Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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shambles

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Dec 15, 2004 5:14 pm

.. coisez !!! .. foiled agen !!
Reply from Wizard of Oz (Newcastle - Australia)
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