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From Late Latin chaoticus (of or pertaining to the primordial state of the universe), from Latin chaos (chaos) + -ticus (suffix forming adjectives from nouns);[1] analysable as chaos +‎ -otic.



chaotic (comparative more chaotic, superlative most chaotic)

  1. filled with chaos.
  2. Extremely disorganized or in disarray.
    Synonym: shambolic
    • 1756, [Edmund Burke], “A Vindication of Natural Society; or, A View of the Miseries and Evils Arising to Mankind from Every Species of Artificial Society. []”, in Fugitive Pieces, on Various Subjects. [] In Two Volumes, volume II, Dublin: Printed for Peter Wilson, [], published 1762, →OCLC, page 60:
      In theſe early and unrefined Ages, the jarring Parts of a certain chaotick Conſtitution ſupported their ſeveral Pretenſions by the Sword. Experience and Policy have ſince taught other Methods.
    • 1838, [George] Back, chapter V, in Narrative of an Expedition in H.M.S. Terror, Undertaken with a View to Geographical Discovery on the Arctic Shores, in the Years 1836–7, London: John Murray, [], pages 279–280:
      Our intervals of repose were now very short; for at 12h 50m a.m., March 16th, another rush drove irresistibly on the larboard quarter and stern, and forcing the ship ahead raised her up on the ice. A chaotic ruin followed; our poor and cherished court yard, its wall and arched doors, gallery, and well-trodden paths, were rent, and in some parts ploughed up like dust.
    • 1851 November 14, Herman Melville, “The Chapel”, in Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, 1st American edition, New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers; London: Richard Bentley, →OCLC, page 40:
      Yes, there is death in this business of whaling—a speechlessly quick chaotic bundling of a man into Eternity.
    • 1990 July, Meredith F. Burrill, “Active Advisory Committees”, in 1890–1990: A Century of Service: United States Board on Geographic Names (Miscellaneous Publication; 1484), [Washington, D.C.]: Forest Service, United States Department of Agriculture, →OCLC, page 6:
      The Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names (ACAN), when it was established in 1943 as the Special Committee on Antarctic Names (SCAN), faced the monumental problem of bringing order into the chaotic geographic nomenclature of a vast, inaccessible, inhospitable continent more expansive than the United States, most of it unseen by man at that time. [] In less than two decades, chaotic confusion with bitter controversy over names in the Antarctic was resolved into an orderly nomenclature largely agreed upon internationally.
    • 2019 March 28, Jon Henley, “European press gets popcorn out for another chaotic day of Brexit: The latest twist was likened to a TV saga, and no one knows what the ending will be”, in Katharine Viner, editor, The Guardian[1], London: Guardian News & Media, →ISSN, →OCLC, archived from the original on 28 March 2019:
      Following "yet another chaotic day in parliament", it did at least look like "the last chance for [Theresa] May's Brexit deal" was approaching, the paper [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung] said. The prime minister had "played her last card" in offering to resign in exchange for the Conservative votes she needed to get it through the House of Commons.
  3. (mathematics) Highly sensitive to starting conditions, so that a small change to them may yield a very different outcome.
    • 2011 April, Martha Tsigkari; Adam Davis; Francis Aish, “A Sense of Purpose: Mathematics and Performance in Environmental Design”, in George L. Legendre, editor, Mathematics of Space (Architectural Design; volume 81, issue 4), London: John Wiley & Sons, →ISBN, →ISSN, page 56, column 2:
      The manipulation of the environment through design involves many branches of mathematics: the projective geometry of light transmission, the chaotic and probabilistic maths of weather patterns, and the statistical algorithms required to make analysis legible and obtain discrete building components from continuous distributions.
  4. (role-playing games) Aligned against following or upholding laws and principles.
    Antonym: lawful
    • 2001, Daniel Mackay, “Interface Design: The Machinery Manufacturing the Ghost in the Machine”, in The Fantasy Role-playing Game: A New Performing Art, Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, →ISBN, page 45:
      While a player in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons is required to properly perform one of nine moral categories (e.g., "lawful good" or "chaotic neutral"), the Everway player is expected to perform the literary equivalent of moral themes. It is easy to imagine a Macbeth Everway character with the fault of ambition or King Solomon with the virtue of wisdom. It is, however, an additional step removed—and therefore seemintly more contrived—to imagine Macbeth as "chaotic neutral," "neutral evil," or "lawful neutral."
    • 2012, Jon Cogburn, “Beyond Chaotic Good and Lawful Evil?”, in Jon Cogburn and Mark Silcox, editors, Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy: Raiding the Temple of Wisdom (Popular Culture and Philosophy; 70), Chicago; LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court Publishing Company, →ISBN, page 42:
      The Chaotic Neutral wills the destruction of instances of universal order, but is not motivated by sadism in doing so. The archetypal Chaotic Neutral from recent great fantasy literature remains Karsa Orlong. [] One might harness some of the reasons against the idea of Chaotic Good against Chaotic Neutral. Could someone truly willing chaos do anything but also will the suffering brought about?

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Derived terms[edit]



chaotic (plural chaotics)

  1. (role-playing games) A character having a chaotic alignment.


  1. ^ chaotic, adj.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, June 2007; “chaotic”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.

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