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I'm looking for a word that describes something that is in a state of disarray (because someone has been rummaging through it). Sample use:

I looked at the _____ drawer with suspicion.

Both "ruffled" and "rifled" seem a little dubious, and Wiktionary doesn't think "disarrayed" or "disarranged" are adjectives. "Disordered" feels more like an initial state, rather than one recently acquired.

Tousled feels like a good match, but it just sounds odd to me in this context. Similarly, "tossed" almost works, except that it has multiple meanings, and a reader's first impression is likely to not match the desired meaning.

Is "disarrayed" acceptable in this context? Is there a better word?

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  • @KannE, yes, actually! I would say that's at least as good as any of the alternatives, and also suggests a few other possibilities ("combed through", "scoured", "rummaged"... in some contexts I'd add "pilfered" also, though that implies something missing). Care to post that as an answer?
    – Matthew
    Mar 4, 2020 at 15:52
  • @KannE, "ransacked". I'm not sure "plundered" implies disarray, and it definitely implies something taken. (I mentioned "rifled" in the question.)
    – Matthew
    Mar 4, 2020 at 20:58
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    Ransack/rifle includes the intention of stealing. Your question doesn't mention and doesn't necessarily have that context (someone can rummage through it without the intention of stealing). But, "ransacked drawer" could work in a detective story.
    – ermanen
    Mar 4, 2020 at 22:15
  • In my actual usage, I am looking for a word describing a storage area (drawer, bag, suitcase, etc.) whose contents have been visibly disturbed.
    – Matthew
    Mar 10, 2020 at 17:23
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    Tousled does not work - tousled is specific to hair and hairy things.
    – Greybeard
    Dec 22, 2021 at 12:04

4 Answers 4

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Since KannE seems reluctant to add an answer...

Ransacked. Like disarrayed, wiktionary doesn't think it's an adjective, but the verb has the right connotations:

To make a vigorous and thorough search of (a place, person) with a view to stealing something, especially when leaving behind a state of disarray.

In fact, this is virtually an exact match for "something that is in a state of disarray (because someone has been rummaging through it)".

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You can use "rummaged-through" or "rummaged" adjectivally:

I looked at the rummaged-through / rummaged drawer with suspicion.

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I would go with jumbled. It can imply that someone rummaged through the drawer in a relevant context. The phrase jumbled drawer brings up many results in Google Books.

The definition of the verb jumble from Collins:

If you jumble things or if things jumble, they become mixed together so that they are untidy or are not in the correct order.

In fact, I've found a relevant example from a book about a homicide case where the murderer tried to find something in the victim's house.

“Then he looked for something,” she continued, following his gaze to that jumbled drawer. Next to it was the telephone.
“I'll call,” said Arthur, staggering up.
Whoever fished through that drawer must have found what he wanted.

Amateur Night by K. K. Beck

Other similar verbs don't work well with their adjective forms to define a drawer that is rummaged through. Rummaged drawer could be an option but it doesn't sound natural and it only brings up very few results in Google.

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I looked at the disarranged drawer with suspicion.

If you are looking for dictionary approval for the adjective:

disarrange (v.)

To disturb or destroy the order or arrangement of; to throw into disorder or confusion.

DERIVATIVES

disarranged (adj.) OED


Happy she to whom a disarranged drawer can be a misery! The Cabinet of Instruction, Literature, and Amusement, Vol I. no. 2 (1829)

...testified to as of utmost need by the open, disarranged drawers of the chiffonier, and a glimpse of equal disorder in the closet beyond. Mary Cutting; "Song of a Shirt" in The Speaker. Vol. VIII, no. 1 (1913)

She pulled out the disarranged drawers from the table and began combing through things. Bhuban Basu; Spaces in Togetherness (2015)

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