A Simple Question … Endless Possibilities

Why Can You Be ‘discombobulated’ But Not ‘combobulated’?

Posted by apwood on January 17, 2008


For some reason I’ve always enjoyed using the word discombobulated when I just couldn’t get it together. It’s a fun word. However, my new trying-to-be-and-use-positive-words-only take has led me to ponder why it is possible to be ‘discombobulated’ and not ‘combobulated.’

While waiting for my turn with my incredible chiropractor (Dr. Janet McGaurn in West Chester, PA) she told me she would be right with me, she was getting combobulated. I in turn remarked that I liked that as it was the positive alternative to one of my former favorite words ‘discombobulated.’

She informed me that it wasn’t actually a word in the dictionary. Of course, I wondered WHY would there be a negative version of a word without the opposite positive option (when it was only made negative with the prefix ‘dis’)???

Well, that made me take a look at the dictionary.

**American Heritage DictionaryCite This Sourcedis·com·bob·u·late (dĭs’kəm-bŏb’yə-lāt’)
tr.v. dis·com·bob·u·lat·ed, dis·com·bob·u·lat·ing, dis·com·bob·u·lates
To throw into a state of confusion. See Synonyms at confuse.

[Perhaps alteration of discompose.]

Well the alteration discompose…… the opposite is compose. So why not combobulated? It does sound a little strange but is that just because I’m used to “dis” or because it is positive. Not sure.

Now ‘dis‘ –

** Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)Cite This SourceDis [dis] Pronunciation KeyShow IPA Pronunciation –noun Classical Mythology. a god of the underworld.

Did he invent the word?


**American Heritage Stedman’s Medical DictionaryCite This Sourcedis-

  1. Not: disjugate.
  2. Absence of; opposite of: disorientation.
  3. Undo; do the opposite of: dislocate.
  4. Deprive of; remove: dismember.

**No results found for combobulated.

So if it can have a ‘dis’ on it why can’t we remove it? Or do I have to hang up my beloved discombobulated since there isn’t a positive alternative?

Yes, it may not be important to some maybe even most people – i just wanted to know why? go figure…

Also adding to this discussion – Kate – informed me that the same is true for the word “nonplussed.”

**Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)Cite This Source

[non-pluhs, non-pluhs] Pronunciation KeyShow IPA Pronunciation verb, -plussed or -plused, -plus·sing or -plus·ing, noun –verb (used with object)

1. to render utterly perplexed; puzzle completely.

Well I guess I’m nonplussed about why?

I won’t go there why nonplussed means puzzled when the ‘non’ usually means not.

Oh well, Anyone?

Thanks Janet & Kate!


46 Responses to “Why Can You Be ‘discombobulated’ But Not ‘combobulated’?”

  1. Mnemonyss said

    Why not try: disdiscombobulated or why not de-discombobulated
    or even non-discombobulated?

    I stumbled upon your blog when I decided I would like to use combobulated myself and then realized it was not an accepted form of what I was attempting to convey.

    I have always felt double-negatives cancel the negative form out. 🙂

  2. carey said

    just trying to add to the the discussion… take a look at the words discommode and commode. They are not related… even discharge and charge are not

  3. shell said

    critically thinking, my opinion is, it just doesn’t make much sense!

    if discombobulated means to throw someone into a complete state of confusion, you cannot in essence, throw someone into a state of complete understanding; one must come to it themselves, however confusing someone is much easier than helping them undertstand.

    however, this said, although it is less likely, i suppose it would occur… why not use combobulated anyway? it is bound to enter urban slang (if not already has) just like words that do not make sense in the slightest; yo diggity, hangdizzle and pavlova.

  4. Casey said

    This reply is probably a bit peccable and might not make apwood more gruntled, but the simple truth is that English is a crazy language… (see also “sung heroes”, “requited love” and “ruly behaviour”.

  5. Steven said

    Just tonight “discombobulated” fell out of my mouth in conversation, and it occurred to me I needed to look up “combobulate” as soon as I got home. When I couldn’t find it in the old fashioned printed dictionary I hopped online, of course.
    The enlightening conversations above have left me quite combobulated.
    Thank you for throwing me into a state of understanding.

  6. apwood said

    My pleasure Steven!

  7. randle said

    Just like Steven, discombobulate came up in conversation and I became curious about the absense of combobulate. The inquiry led me here. This thread made me smile. Actually it made my day. I feel like I just walked out of an enlightened conversation. Cheers.

  8. apwood said

    Thank you Randle! I’m glad I caused you to smile. At times my Why? questions made me ponder whether I need more hobbies or if my brain going into overdrive had any use. I’ll take smiles. Thanks for the kind words.

  9. Labrat said

    check this link for the Urban dictionary…


    It even shows reundiscombobulated

    • apwood said

      Thanks for the info! I didn’t find that while writing my blog a long while ago. I wonder if the dictionary will include a lot of the words in the urban dictionary one day? Thanks again (:

  10. If you want to see a reader’s feedback 🙂 , I rate this post for four from five. Detailed info, but I have to go to that damn yahoo to find the missed parts. Thanks, anyway!

    • apwood said

      Sorry you found it frustrating – but it is titled “Why” an attempt at humor not Encyclopedia Britannica or Webster’s Dictionary – but thanks for stopping by (:

  11. Jimbo said

    Hey Apwood,
    I’ve often thought the same thing. There certainly should be a state of combobulation. Whenever someone challenges me on my use of undictionaried words (like undictionaried) I merely reply, “Rather than living in the mainstream of language, I prefer to live on the cutting edge.”

  12. Maree said

    Discombobulated is a much loved word in our family vernacular. Hence my 10 year old wondered too about ‘combobulated’… and here we are at your blog. This blog should be considered the definitive source for matters combobulatory. Thanks

  13. julie said

    i found this while looking for the definition to discombobulate when my 17 yr old son said it and i didnt know what it meant. now i will use discombobulate and combobulate. i guess i was not in class the day we learned that word. i feel discombobulated as to why i have never heard it before. excuse the way this looks, as the shift keys on my keyboard do not work.

  14. nick said

    I too was looking for combobulation when I stumbled upon this, but that came out of trying to define Blackadder’s Pericombobulations!

    rgds nick

  15. Greg said

    I was feeling slightly whelmed and just a bit gruntled to find that combobulate was not a word. I liked Casey’s added word “peccable” and the “sung heroes” was truly funny too.
    But if one can feel overwhelmed, why not be underwhelmed? As in:
    “I finally met the girl of my dreams and I was underwhelmed by her appearance.”

  16. Thanks a lot for this great post. I’m looking to compile a list of writers that write about this sort of thing, please email me.

  17. beth cameron said

    Check out the sign at the Milwaukee airport. Reads recombobulation area

    • Ray Martin said

      After TSA got me completely discombobulated, I was glad to use the recombobulation on my trip to London. Unfortunately, customs there got me rediscombobulated before allowing me to go to my hotel.

  18. natie marie said

    hey, just wanted to leave a message, i automatically went to send a message containing the wourd combobulate about half an hour ago, before stopping and thinking ‘does it actualy exist?’ and so did some research. I’m glad im not the only person who thinks combobulate is a perfectly reasonable opposite to the existing word discombobulate!

  19. Keith said

    I stumbled upon your site wondering the same thing. After some tought, I guess the same principle applies to the word “confused”. It is somewhat illogical to combubulated, since it makes little sense to ‘throw someone out of confusion’, it would not make sense to be disconfused. You are either confused, or you have full understanding of the matter.

  20. Lili said

    There is no reason why you can’t use the term “combobulated” to mean ‘bring to order; bring out of confusion’ etc.

    The English language is absolutely adorable in this way, it’s so very fluent and changing. Bill Bryson wrote a book called ‘The Mother Tongue’. If you ever get a chance to, have a read of it, you’ll understand why we use the words we do, and why some aren’t used the way they probably should be, and will feel a lot more confident combobulating the issue. 🙂

  21. lone prof said

    How satisfying. This entire string has left me completely gruntled.

  22. LoNNNie said

    I just looked up discombobulate in the online Etymology dictionary (etymology is the study of the origin of words, for anyone who didn’t know). If you like words… check it out. Some words have a lot of known history and some don’t. Below is what came up for Discombobulate….. We should start using Discombobricate again! And why not Combobricate as well 🙂

    1834, Amer.Eng., fanciful coinage of a type popular then (originally discombobricate). Related: discombobulating; discombobulation.

    1834 (as discombobracated); see discombobulate.

  23. Peter said

    I know this is an old thread (with some not so old recent posts) but i hope the original poster will still see this and be encouraged…. If discombobulated can be ‘created’… then i guess here’s proof that “recombobulate” is now ‘officially’ a word! posted by my sister today…
    “In the Milwaukee airport, just past security screening, there is a sign “Recombobulation Area”. 1-Does having a word printed in black and white make it an actual word? 2-If you can dis- and re-, wouldn’t that lead you to believe the word could stand on its own? As in “How are you today?”—“Oh, I’m fairly combobulated, thanks!” Hmm, I don’t think that word means what you think it means!!! ;)”

  24. One of my favorites is incognito. It is possible to be incognito but not cognito. So I can conceal my identity, but not reveal it.

  25. pachycephalas said

    Dis-com-bobulate … it was one of the made up words from the mid-19th century … break it apart:

    bobulate is to bounce up, down, back and forth, like a single dancer at a party or club

    combobulate is coordinated with more than one, like a line dance

    discombobulate is chaos out of order, like one dancer tripping and causing a chain-reaction of disorder.

  26. amore said

    A tale of requited love
    by Jack Winter/The New Yorker

    It had been a rough day, so when I walked into the party I was very chalant, despite my efforts to appear gruntled and consolate.

    I was furling my wieldy umbrella for the coat check when I saw her standing alone in a corner She was a descript person, a woman in a state of total array. Her hair was kempt, her clothing shevelled, and she moved in a gainly way.

    I wanted desperately to meet her, but I knew I’d have to make bones about it since I was traveling cognito. Beknownst to me, the hostess, whom I could see both hide and hair of, was very proper, so it would be skin off my nose if anything bad happened. And even though I had only swerving loyalty to her, my manners couldn’t be peccable. Only toward and heard-of behavior would do.

    Fortunately, the embarrassment that my maculate appearance might cause was evitable. There were two ways about it, but the chances that someone as flappable as I would be ept enough to become persona grata or a sung hero were slim. I was, after all, something to sneeze at, someone you could easily hold a candle to, someone who usually aroused bridled passion.

    So I decided not to risk it. But then, all at once, for some apparent reason, she looked in my direction and smiled in a way that I could make heads or tails of.

    I was plussed. It was concerting to see that she was communicado, and it nerved me that she was interested in a pareil like me, sight seen.

    Normally, I had a domitable spirit, but, being corrigible, I felt capacitated–as if this were something I was great shakes at–and forgot that I had succeeded in situations like this only a told number of times. So, after a terminable delay, I acted with mitigated gall and made my way through the ruly crowd with strong givings.

    Nevertheless, since this was all new hat to me and I had no time to prepare a promptu speech, I was petuous. Wanting to make only called-for remarks, I started talking about the hors d’oeuvres, trying to abuse her of the notion that I was sipid, and perhaps even bunk a few myths about myself.

    She responded well, and I was mayed that she considered me a savory character who was up to some good. She told me who she was. “What a perfect nomer,” I said, advertently. The conversation become more and more choate, and we spoke at length to much avail. But I was defatigable, so I had to leave at a godly hour. I asked if she wanted to come with me. To my delight, she was committal. We left the party together and have been together ever since. I have given her my love, and she has requited it.

  27. jlnh said

    I am mis(dis)combobulated after having read all answers! What is the final verdict? Is there absolutely NO combobulate? The search proceeds.

  28. kwqd said

    If enough folks start using combobulated, it will eventually get into the dictionary.

  29. elden said


    […]Why Can You Be ‘discombobulated’ But Not ‘combobulated’? « WHY?[…]…

  30. Roland THTG said

    “The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that the English language is as pure as a crib-house whore. It not only borrows words from other languages; it has on occasion chased other languages down dark alley-ways, clubbed them unconscious and rifled their pockets for new vocabulary.”
    ― James Nicoll

  31. digg said


    […]Why Can You Be ‘discombobulated’ But Not ‘combobulated’? « WHY?[…]…

  32. Transport company Novosibirsk…

    […]Why Can You Be ‘discombobulated’ But Not ‘combobulated’? « WHY?[…]…

  33. Rock Quarry said

    “Discombobulate” is a mutation of the word “Discombobricate” from the 1800’s. Not sure if this helps or hurts the search for “Combobulate”!

  34. Jackie Galbreath said

    Sunridge says: I’m 82, and just questioned today why there is no combobulated, or should there be an undiscombobulated, etc., as discombobulated is also one of my favorite words. I also wanted the positive antonym, thank you all, I will use “combobulate” whether it’s in all the dictionaries or not. June 10, 2012

  35. Katy said

    More than four years after the original post, I found this when I googled ‘discombobulate’ because that word has been coming up in my life a lot lately and I would prefer to be combobulated. Reading the post and all the comments has had me laughing with joy a nice way to start my day. Thanks all!
    I’ve been thinking that equanimity could be a synonym for combobulation but equanimous doesn’t flow any easier than combobulated.

  36. Micah said

    I should be able to have a story combobulating from discombobulated thoughts.

  37. cathford said

    I googled combobulate prior to reading this discussion believing it to be a word and was provided with at least one answer that it was something coming about in a mysterious way there was no mention of its nonexistence in the definition i found

  38. cathford said

    Sorry-to bring something out of a state of disarray or confusion

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