Verb > Discombobulate

Verb > Discombobulate

Our word “discombobulate” is only a few hundreds years old. It probably arose as a slangy, silly version of a word like “disconcert” (meaning “to bother, to confuse, to throw someone out of whack”).

When something discombobulates you, it causes you so much confusion or embarrassment that you look foolish, like you have no idea what’s going on.

Part of speech:

Verb, the transitive kind: “The noise discombobulated her;” “I was discombobulated by the noise.”

Other forms:

Discombobulated, discombobulating, discombobulation.

Just looking at the word “discombobulate,” you’d figure that the opposite is “combobulate,” right? That word doesn’t appear in dictionaries, which makes sense because “discombobulate” is a silly invention, not really a Latin-based word with a meaningful prefix and base. But feel free to use “combobulate” playfully anyway, along with any other playful forms you’d like to invent, especially if you use the regular form first to help orient your reader. Let’s make some examples: “That music video from the early 90’s really discombobulated me, but to be fair, the early 90’s weren’t all that combobulated to begin with.” “For a second I was discombobulated. I had to recombobulate myself in a hurry.”

how to use it:

When you need to strike a lighthearted tone as you describe someone’s frazzled state of confusion, rather than picking a formal word like “perplex,” “discomfit,” or “disconcert,” pick the fun, goofy word “discombobulate.”

Talk about people getting discombobulated by weird, confusing, unexpected events, statements, and situations. “She wasn’t joking, so their laughter discombobulated her.” “Discombobulated by the sudden turn of events, he blushed and stammered.”

Although we usually say that people are discombobulated, we can also say that their thoughts, their hopes, their expectations and so on are discombobulated, or all mixed-up and thrown off. We can even get figurative and talk about discombobulated objects, places, and ideas, if they seem all chaotic and jumbled up.

“Back then he couldn’t even pack a suitcase for himself, as discombobulated as his thoughts were.”
— Steven David Justin Sills, Tokyo to Tijuana: Gabriele Departing America, 2012

“When she found herself staring up at an 18ft billboard of herself in Times Square advertising the run she was about to star in, it was a discombobulating experience.”
— Rebecca Nicholson, The Guardian, 15 July 2018