Intermediate+ Word of the Day: scramble

scramble (verb, noun) /ˈskræmbəl/ LISTEN

A man scrambling up rocks

To scramble means ‘to climb using both your hands and your feet’ and also ‘to compete with others’ and ‘to move quickly, with a purpose.’ Scramble also means ‘to organize or mix things in a hurried and disorderly way’ and, when talking about eggs, ‘to cook them while stirring them constantly.’ As a noun, a scramble is a climb or any movement over irregular ground. It’s also a struggle to obtain something or a disorderly and hurried way of doing things.

Example sentences

  • The children scrambled up the rocks.
  • People scrambled to pick up the money the millionaire threw from his car.
  • I was running late, so I scrambled my things together, stuffed them in my bag, and ran out of the door.
  • Alice scrambles eggs for breakfast every morning.
  • The walk includes a scramble to get over some rocks, but apart from that it's quite an easy route.
  • There was a scramble to get the best seats before the game started.
  • Getting ready in the mornings is always a bit of a scramble in our house.

In pop culture

You might think scrambling eggs is a very easy thing to do, but here is chef Anthony Bourdain to tell you how to do it absolutely perfectly:

You might notice that he mentions “greasy spoons.” He isn’t talking literally about spoons; a greasy spoon is an informal term for a type of café or restaurant that serves a lot of fried (so, greasy) food.

Additional information

In the military, to scramble means to get an airplane into the air quickly to intercept enemy planes.

Did you know?

In telecommunications, scrambling is a way of coding signals or messages so that they are only intelligible to people who have the correct decoding device.

Other forms

scrambler (noun)


Scramble dates back to the late 16th century. The verb, originally meaning ‘to climb using hands and feet,’ and ‘to move quickly,’ may have appeared as a nasalized variant of scrabble (which means ‘to scratch or scrawl,’ but can figuratively be used like scramble) and a dialectal verb that is now in disuse, scamble (to stumble along). The figurative sense, ‘to compete,’ also dates back to the late 16th century. The transitive sense, ‘to stir things together randomly,’ is from the early 19th century, and we have been “scrambling” our eggs since the mid-19th century. The telecommunications sense, ‘to make something unintelligible,’ is a figurative use of this meaning, and has been used since the early 20th century. The noun comes from the verb, and dates back to the late 17th century.

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