discombobulate

“Discombobulate” means to embarrass, disturb, confuse, befuddle, or disconcert.

The word originated in the US and appeared in 1834. It’s a fanciful mock-Latin coinage of a type that was popular at the time. Here are some other examples:

confusticate — confuse (1852) 

absquatulate — flee (1840) 

spifflicate — confound (1850) 

scrumplicate — eat (1890)

The Oxford English Dictionary cites an example from a New York sporting newspaper, Spirit of the Times (1839): “Finally, Richmond was obliged to trundle him, neck and heels, to the earth, to the utter discombobulation of his wig.”

There were also various forms of the word, including: discombobberate, discombobolate, discombooble, and conbobberate. Here’s another one from an 1834 issue of the New York Sun: “May be some of you don’t get discombobracated.”

You might think that “discombobulate” follows the same pattern as pairs like “comfort” and “discomfort” but it’s not so. There is no such word as “combobulate.”

Discombobulate appears to be just a nonsense alteration of “discompose” or “discomfort” but the “bobulate” part has no etymological origin. However, the Dictionary of American Regional English suggests that the “bob” in “discombobulate” may have come from “bobbery” (1816), which means a noisy disturbance, row, brawl. “Bobbery” itself came from the Hindi “bap re” meaning literally “oh father!”

Now I’m totally discombobulated!

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