Disheveled but never sheveled

Have you ever been tempted to tell your child, “You look completely disheveled. Go shevel yourself”?

Can you be “disheveled” if you’ve never been “sheveled,” or is it “heveled”? It’s neither. “Disheveled” is another “lonely negative,” a negation of a nonexistent word.

“Disheveled,” which is pronounced /di-SHEH-vuhld/, not as I have sometimes heard it, /*dis-HEH-vuhld/, means ‘messy, disordered, untidy, especially in reference to someone’s appearance.’ It comes from the late Middle English word, now obsolete, “dishevely,” which derives from Old French deschevelé, past participle of descheveler (based on chevel ‘hair,’ from Latin capillus). Originally it meant ‘having the hair uncovered’ and later it referred to the hair itself, hanging loose, and so messy or untidy.

This image was originally posted to Flickr by *Zara at It was reviewed on 28 June 2010 by the FlickreviewR robot and confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-sa-2.0.



Lexie Kahn: Word Snooper is a blog about words and their origins at
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2 Responses to Disheveled but never sheveled

  1. perhaps you should check the miriam-webster website. You can in fact be sheveled.

    • Thanks, William. The free Merriam-Webster website does not list “sheveled,” but has a reference to it on their premium unabridged site. Being thrifty, I went to the OED Online through the L.A. Public Library. Here’s what I found:

      “shevelled, adj.
      Pronunciation: /ˈʃɛvəld/
      Forms: Also 16 sheualed, shieveld.
      Etymology: Aphetic form of dishevelled adj.
      rare and arch.
      Dishevelled. Also transf.”

      Is that what M-W says too: that it’s a rare and archaic shortening of “disheveled”?

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