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?

  • @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 '20 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 '20 at 20:58
  • 1
    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.
    – 0..
    Mar 4 '20 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 '20 at 17:23

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.


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)".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.