Judy Hagey

Nonfiction Editor ~ Freelance Writer

Word of the Week – discombobulated

Last weekend we made the 1600-mile trip for my family’s annual reunion. As usual, it was a whirlwind trip as we attempted to see as many relatives and friends as possible in three days. And as usual, it’s left me feeling discombobulated.

Of all the onomatopoetic words, discombobulated is my favorite. (Onomatopoeic words are words that sound like their definition, like pop, swoosh andrecombobulation_area-milwaukees-mitchell-international-airport murmur, to name a few.) And nothing sounds more like the chaos and unsettledness that discombobulated is than discombobulated. According to Merriam-Webster, discombobulate is a transitive (action) verb meaning to upset or confuse. Discombobulated can be used either as the past tense form of the verb or as an adjective.

Discombobulated is what it sounds like in another way—a made up word. A recent, uniquely American coinage, most dictionaries place its first usage between 1825 and 1916. It is most likely a combination of discomfort and discompose. Variations of the word include discombobracated, discomboberate, discombobelate, discombooberate, discombobble, discomboobleate. Each one sounding more made up than the one before, all equally humorous, and all communicating the sense that someone is baffled, befuddled, bewildered. You get the picture.

Some argue that there is no root word, combobulate. However, the Urban Dictionary defines combobulate as organized or pulled together, the antonym of discombobulate. Apparently, the planners at the Milwaukee airport latched onto that when they designated the area after the TSA checkpoint the recombobulation area—the spot where travelers can pull themselves back together after passing through airport security.

Recombobulating—that’s what I will be doing in the next few days as I recover from a pleasant, but somewhat exhausting weekend.

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One Reply

  1. Amy

    Love it! Incredibly interesting.

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