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Origin uncertain. Perhaps from earlier dialectal scramble, scrammel (to collect or rake together with the hands), from scramb (to pull or scrape together with the hands) +‎ -le (frequentative suffix) (compare Dutch schrammen (to graze, brush, scratch)); or alternatively from a nasalised form of scrabble (to scrape or scratch quickly).


  • IPA(key): /ˈskɹæmbl̩/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -æmbəl


scramble (third-person singular simple present scrambles, present participle scrambling, simple past and past participle scrambled)

  1. (intransitive) To move hurriedly to a location, especially by using all limbs against a surface.
    • 2012 April 18, Phil McNulty, “Chelsea 1 – 0 Barcelona”, in BBC Sport[1]:
      As half-time approached Fabregas had another chance to give Barcelona the lead. He collected an incisive Messi pass and this time beat Cech, who required Cole to scramble back and clear the ball off the line.
    • 1898, J. Meade Falkner, chapter 3, in Moonfleet, London, Toronto, Ont.: Jonathan Cape, published 1934:
      When I saw the coffin I knew that I was respited, for, as I judged, there was space between it and the wall behind enough to contain my little carcass; and in a second I had put out the candle, scrambled up the shelves, half-stunned my senses with dashing my head against the roof, and squeezed my body betwixt wall and coffin.
  2. (intransitive) To proceed to a location or an objective in a disorderly manner.
  3. (transitive, of food ingredients, usually including egg) To thoroughly combine and cook as a loose mass.
    I scrambled some eggs with spinach and cheese.
  4. (transitive) To process telecommunication signals to make them unintelligible to an unauthorized listener.
  5. (transitive, military) To quickly deploy (vehicles, usually aircraft) to a destination in response to an alert, usually to intercept an attacking enemy.
  6. (intransitive, military) To be quickly deployed in this manner.
    • 1969, Burke Davis, Get Yamamoto, page 115:
      As the planes scrambled, four of his veterans went up: Tom Lanphier, Rex Barber, Joe Moore and Jim McLanahan. They had waited with other Lightnings at 30,000 feet and dived on a formation of eleven Zeroes far below, working in pairs.
  7. (intransitive, sports) To partake in motocross.
  8. (intransitive) To ascend rocky terrain as a leisure activity.
  9. (transitive) To gather or collect by scrambling.
  10. (transitive) To struggle eagerly with others for something thrown upon the ground; to go down upon all fours to seize something; to catch rudely at what is desired.
  11. (transitive) To throw something down for others to compete for in this manner.
    • 1952, Walkabout, volume 18, page 40:
      [] Father Boniface standing on the verandah of the Monastery on a Sunday afternoon “scrambling” lollies to the kids []
  12. (Rubik's Cube) To permute parts of a twisty puzzle (especially, Rubik's Cube) until it is ready to be solved from scratch.

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scramble (plural scrambles)

  1. A rush or hurry, especially making use of the limbs against a surface.
    a last-minute scramble to the finish line
  2. (military) An emergency defensive air force mission to intercept attacking enemy aircraft.
    • 1984, Steve Harris, "Aces High", Iron Maiden, Powerslave.
      There goes the siren that warns of the air raid / Then comes the sound of the guns sending flak / Out for the scramble we've got to get airborne / Got to get up for the coming attack.
  3. A motocross race.
  4. Any frantic period of competitive activity.
    • 2011 January 8, Chris Bevan, “Arsenal 1 – 1 Leeds”, in BBC Sport[2]:
      And the Leeds defence, led by the impressive Alex Bruce, was also in determined mood. Jonathan Howson had to clear a Sebastien Squillaci effort off his line and Becchio was also in the right place to hack clear after a goalmouth scramble.
    • 2014 October 21, Oliver Brown, “Oscar Pistorius jailed for five years – sport afforded no protection against his tragic fallibilities: Bladerunner's punishment for killing Reeva Steenkamp is but a frippery when set against the burden that her bereft parents, June and Barry, must carry [print version: No room for sentimentality in this tragedy, 13 September 2014, p. S22]”, in The Daily Telegraph (Sport)[3]:
      [I]n the 575 days since [Oscar] Pistorius shot dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, there has been an unseemly scramble to construct revisionist histories, to identify evidence beneath that placid exterior of a pugnacious, hair-trigger personality.
  5. (gridiron football) An impromptu maneuver or run by a quarterback, attempting to gain yardage or avoid being tackled behind the line of scrimmage.
  6. (golf) A statistic used in assessing a player's short game, consisting of a chip or putt from under 50 yards away that results in requiring one putt or less on the green.
  7. (golf) A variant of golf in which each player in a team tees off on each hole, and the players decide which shot was best. Every player then plays their second shot from within a club length of where the best ball has come to rest, and the procedure is repeated until the hole is finished.


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  1. (UK) Shouted when something desirable is thrown into a group of people who individually want that item, causing them to rush for it.