Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
May 19th, 2016
Episode 529 of 797 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 19, 2016 is: ramshackle \RAM-shak-ul\ adjective 1 : appearing ready to collapse : rickety 2 : carelessly or loosely constructed Examples: The yard was sectioned off by a ramshackle wooden fence that was just barely held together with chicken wire. "He's also made the bold move of purchasing the ramshackle building behind his market, envisioning an Internet cafe." — Sarah Netter, The Washington Post, 7 Apr. 2016 Did you know? 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."