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I've often heard the word "discombobulated" used. But I've never heard of something being "combobulated", and it's not in any dictionary I've looked at. If "combobulated" is not word, where did "discombobulated" come from?

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    Can you be "gruntled"? – user362 Aug 18 '11 at 12:53
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    This doesn't help to explain why "combobulate" never became an actual word, but it gives a time frame for when "discombobulate" came into use. According to etymonline: 1834, Amer.Eng., fanciful coinage of a type popular then (originally discombobricate). Related: discombobulating; discombobulation. – RGW1976 Aug 20 '11 at 23:15
  • "I had had a psycholytic dose of LSD, one that allowed the patient to explore his psyche in an unconstrained but still deliberate manner while remaining sufficiently combobulated to talk about it." from "How To Change Your Mind" by Michael Pollan, Penguin Books 2019, page 253. Here "combobulated" means the opposite of "discombobulated". Id est something equivalent to "sober", "composed", "sensible", "in order". – Raffael Jul 16 '19 at 10:44
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It's a slang (originally American) word of unknown origin that goes back well over a century. Probably just a fanciful alliteration of discommode, discomfit, discompose, etc.

It certainly doesn't derive from some pre-existing word combobulate. I think normally you'd be understood if you tried to use that 'back-formation', but I don't think it will catch on.

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  • Maybe it will catch on. This is from urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=combobulated. Yo dogg, Mr. Dan really combobulates calculus! Fo shizzle D! – mmesser314 Feb 5 '15 at 14:47
  • The OED (note: the OED is behind a paywall, you may need institutional access or a subscription to follow the link) puts the first use of "discombobulate" (as a verb) around 1825. The section on etymology basically comes down to "origin unknown", but that it was possibly built along the rules of humorous slang of the time, and in analogy to the words FF cites. Basically, the OED confirms FF' answer. The OED has no entry for "combobulated," which indicates that it isn't often used (though I think that you would be understood if you used it). – user300358 May 25 '18 at 13:57
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In my opinion, it comes from the Italian word "scombussolato", which has the same definition and literally means "of someone whose compass is discomposed or has none". Bussola being the word for compass in Italian.

The alteration of the original word to "discombobulated" follows the classic pattern of enunciation alteration that follow Italian words into English language.

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I can not speak to previous answers. My opinion is based on personal experience. I first heard combobulate/discombobulate (both terms) in the late 1940s from my 60-year-old grandfather, when I was four. On being asked, he could not recall its source.

Several days later, he came to me with a crumbling old letter he had received as a very young boy (mid 1890s), passed down from his grandmother. It was dated in 1823 and written by his great grandfather, and it contained the word combobulate, meaning (from the sense in which it was used) “to make order”.

At the time of writing it, the elder gentleman was in his mid-60s, so I am left to presume that the term goes back a good deal further.

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I am going to suggest taking your heads out of the history books and look to the source of many recently added dictionary words' sources...the TV! LOL! Although I do not recall completely which episode this was, I have used this word since learning it when I was a mere 5 or so years old with my first being introduced to it while watching the original Astro Boy animated TV series, in which there was an episode he was being asked about his origins and first memories, and he replied with "The first thing I remembered was waking up in the Ministry of Science, on a busted up lab table. At the time, I had no idea what was going on. I was kind of…discombobulated." And I remember thinking how cool that BIG word was, and latched on to using it at every applicable opportunity.

Of course this is not necessarily the true source of the word, but certainly what brought it into the mainstream consciousness, and since these episodes were primarily based upon a 1950's comic book series, it would not surprise me if this were indeed the first ever use of it, since looking at the Dictionary.com timeline for its use, it shows exactly near the end of the 50's to begin being used, and then steadily rise in popularity of use as it CONTINUES to still to this day!!

When I used this word in an email and since my spell checker did not ask for override, I searched in surprise to find it was indeed a dictionary word, so I clicked on dictionary.com's etymology tab which was rather disappointing beyond the said timeline reported of its use which in turn brought me here to find out when this was officially became a "dictionary word" and when I saw all of these presumptuous but EDUCATED guesses of its formulation...

I thought the source of my first experience of this word's usage may contribute useful information to pinning an accurate origin or to find the actual formation of the word for its use.

Although... I don't think it will be found in "Astro Boy's origins", for being a Japanese language based iconic character, for obvious translation limitations, (which MAYBE, opened the way to substitute for a Japanese word lacking an English equivalent? If the original Japanese word translated only partially to disconcerting or something like this and and needed i t to sound "Robotically advanced but easy for children to grasp the context...just speculating on potential creative thought processes!)that became the first true "anime'" show in the US, I think it would MOST likely be "Frederik L. Schodt" who will provide any validation of this...he is the person who adapted the Japanese story lines to be suitable for the American "elementary level schoolboy audience" it was targeted to be received by...and I sure was one of them!

I hope my brief history is not too long for this page to publish! My apologies if it is, if you need to edit it without losing context, I'm okay with it, I just hoped to ensure that proper crediting of this word fall on the possibly living originator or the popularizing of its use!

Daniel

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    This is at odds with @FumbleFingers' history and explanation ('It's a slang (originally American) word of unknown origin that goes back well over a century. Probably just a fanciful alliteration of discommode, discomfit, discompose, etc.') Hopefully, FF will give evidence backing these 3 claims (Am / orig unknown / over 100 yrs old), which will require this answer to be better supported. Unsupported answers are frowned upon nowadays on ELU. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 29 '15 at 23:44
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Here's a definition.

"the 'nineties' refers of course to the 1890s

Supplement to Rural Dialect of Grant County, Indiana, in the 'nineties

Waldo Lee McAtee, 1942 - Americanisms

discombobulate, v., put out of order, upset plans.

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=RZQVAQAAMAAJ&q=%22discombobulate%22&dq=%22discombobulate%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiD1tLMh5bfAhW6VRUIHWfnDiU4ChDoAQgpMAA

... and here's a definition of sorts from a book written in 1893.

Half-hours with Jimmieboy John Kendrick Bangs, R.H. Russell, 1893

"Well, here's a thing I don't know about," said Jimmieboy. "What is 'to alarm?'" "To frighten-to scare-to discombobulate."

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=0_5DAQAAMAAJ&q=%22discombobulate%22&dq=%22discombobulate%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiD1tLMh5bfAhW6VRUIHWfnDiU4ChDoAQgxMAI


Before that we have the following from Going on a Mission by Paul Cobden, 1871

He told the cook what he'd done, and said it would 'perfectly discombobulate Maam Prole to miss her Bible...'

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=YT0wAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA32&dq=%22discombobulate%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiElazEh5bfAhWLQRUIHa_yDRAQ6AEIOjAE#v=onepage&q=%22discombobulate%22&f=false

I haven't been able to get back any further than that so I expect it is just a comical-sounding dialect word that someone either made up or mis-heard.

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It's a joke word based on "discomfort", "disconcert" etc which are based on the french 'dis' meaning apart or opposite.

So if discomfort is undo-comfort and discombobulate is from the same sense you can have combolbulate as the opposite of whatever discombobulate is

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    That etymology’s a little off: the prefix is from Old French des-, from Latin dis-, a prefix derived from Latin dis 'apart, asunder'. The original Latin sense survives in such words as disbud and dismember, in which the prefix is basically 'remove'. – Brian M. Scott Aug 18 '11 at 6:10
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"Discombobulate" is similar to "flabbergasted" and "unwittingly".

These are examples of words that spontaneously arose--a phenomenon more frequently observed in the recent flash of social media and broadcast television. Small, even unintentional expressions can (and have) quickly caught on because they're likable and catchy.

It's the affair of language. Novelty bears offspring too.

Discombobulate is somewhat similar in concept to "dis-member" and "re-member", for while "combobulate" could come into usage, "recombobulate" is more likely since both relate a sense of "being done unto" rather than "doing unto another". Dismember and remember are not pure opposites, but conceptually relate since "memory can be altered and refashioned to serve slightly different purposes than it may have at the actual event" just as "dismemberment proves to alter and refashion so that service can no longer be rendered appropriately".

For example, one does not recapitulate in any related way that one capitulates, even though the capitalist may continue to capitalize on the edicts of the capital in a move toward capitulation for personal gain. Recapitulation will ever retain a personal note, for it is championed by the subjective, forgivable rendering. And so it may be with discombobulation--it is a personal event and, so far, may be unrelated to one's previous state.

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    Unwittingly is no more a word that spontaneously arose than any other word in the English language. It's been around for a good seven centuries in more or less its present orthography, and nobody has the faintest chance of finding out how spontaneously or gradually it arose. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 1 '14 at 23:43
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to dismember someone you remove their limbs yes? so to member them - that does not mean to reattach the limbs does it. Remove the members (limbs) but you cannot then limb or member them and expect that to mean the opposite of dismember, so not every dis, has an exact opposite, there are some exceptions. I am inclined to think same exception applies to discombobulate.

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  • and same exception applies to destroy, although yes des not dis. – artisan Jul 28 '13 at 19:41
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http://www.definition-of.com/Combobulate

According to definition.com, COMBOBULATE is a word.

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