Embrace evolution and savour the opportunity for conversational shenanigans – Omnishambles has been declared the Oxford University Press ‘Oxford Dictionaries UK Word of the Year’ for 2012. At four unhurried syllables and with only four vowels to eight consonants, this is a cobbled together yet hyphen-free word. I marvel at the beautiful mark it makes on the page, no descenders (bits that go below the line) allowed! How thrilling.
Attributed to the writers of BBC political comedy/drama The Thick of It, omnishambles is to be seized upon with glee. Just the right degree of onomatopoeia to indicate the disorder it describes. A cementing together of two old words to create something rambling, and messed up – it’s a bit of a mutant yet deserving of our full attention. US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney criticised London’s preparations for Olympics as “omnishambles” (oh how foolish he must feel now that we proved him so wrong with our British ‘spirit of the Blitz pull-it-out-of-the-bag showmanship!). And Labour party leader Ed Miliband, described the 2012 budget (which according to him had every type of tax in shambles) “an omnishambles budget”. That one I’ll leave to you to judge. So we’re in good company.. ahem, well noted company perhaps.
But despite the current fuss, omnishambles is not really such a new concept. The prefix ‘omni’ is from the Latin omnis meaning ‘all’ – as in omnipresent – and the noun shambles describes a state of confusion and bad organization. Actually, shambles is also pretty ancient in derivation. The name of a wooden stool (the Old English word scomul meaning ‘footstool’) evolved to become ‘shambles’ and by the Middle Ages, streets where stalls were set up randomly and often crammed full had become known as ‘shambles’. By the 17th Century, shambles had become a byword for chaos and disorder and so it has remained.
Enough history, back to the future. We now welcome omnishambles as a new plaything, the birth of an expression where disarray can be mixed with ineptitude perchance, and, dear reader, I for one will be making free with it. After all, how lovely to gifted the opportunity to drop it into every day conversation. Imagine the scene:
You: So how was your day?
Me: Ah… utter omnishambles!
You sympathetic smiles and nodding head as you proffer a glass of the strong stuff to calm me down after such dreadful indictment of proceedings (okay, the last bit is a bit off the point, but I live in hope.)
Or how about describing the state to behold in a teenager’s bedroom (should you dare open the door in daylight you’ll need an armory of good adjectives to utter) as grossly omnishambolic! “Get up here and sort out this omnishambles,” you will cry. Said juvenile bounds upstairs with duster and rubbish bag in hand… or not.
The possibilities are endless… so go… try it out. Have fun.