• When it first appeared in the U.S. in the early 1800s, discombobulate was just a playful, rootless coinage conveying a sense of confusion. It was probably inspired by similar words like discomfit and discompose, but the –bobulate part has no etymological origin. It is this nonsense quality that gives the word its meaning—i.e., to throw into a state of confusion. To be discombobulated is to be thoroughly befuddled.




    Discombobulate is still a light word and might be out of place in more formal contexts, but it does turn up fairly often in edited publications—for example:

    But the discombobulated process that preceded it has scared the markets into inertia and lethargy. [Wall Street Journal]

    Therrien’s giant table and chairs leave you discombobulated and delighted. [Guardian]

    Rarely does a federal agency manage to discombobulate the press as thoroughly as Elections Canada did with the issuing of a single report on Wednesday. [National Post]

    Weaver … uses a three-quarter, cross-body release that discombobulates hitters from both sides of the plate. [Sports Illustrated]


    1. As an example of modernization of this faux word, the commercial airport in Milwaukee includes a “recombobulation” area for getting one’s shoes back on after passing through the security area.

    2. My friend Robert and I were discussing new applications for the word and realized that when I was, in fact, with Robert, I was com (with) Bob. I was at that point, comBobulated. Upon leaving, I was dis-comBobulated or, perhaps, de-comBobulated or uncomBobulated.

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