Definition of muddle in US English:



[with object]
  • 1Bring into a disordered or confusing state.

    ‘they were muddling up the cards’
    • ‘I had even put in soft lenses, which always hurt so badly, so that I didn't have to have glasses muddling up my face.’
    • ‘Getting into that whole cluster would become very confusing quickly, since we've got overlapping issues, aside from Vietnam muddling up the mix.’
    • ‘This confusion muddles a key point about contemporary American life.’
    • ‘The tale is muddled in its telling, with a clutter of secondary characters.’
    • ‘He might have got it slightly muddled up from time to time, but he always knew.’
    • ‘‘This cannot be, you died,’ she said in a small voice, confusion muddling her face.’
    • ‘His efforts are in vain, however, as he only succeeds in muddling the central story while completely disengaging us from the characters on the screen.’
    • ‘What is especially disappointing is that the whole election is in danger of becoming just another popularity contest, as many of the candidates have muddled their stances beyond recognition.’
    • ‘In trying to explain the complex mythological system of the show, all the creators have done is muddle an already chaotic mess.’
    • ‘But by using hyperbole and muddling the difference between repressive regimes and the imperfections of democracy, Amnesty's spokesmen put its authority at risk.’
    • ‘To continue to seek bipartisan consensus on legislation muddles the debate and squanders an opportunity to create a record of difference between the parties for 2002 and 2004.’
    • ‘Further muddling the message is what's included in the bonus materials.’
    • ‘I felt that this muddles the clarity of what they are both trying to say.’
    • ‘We believe it has got it all hopelessly muddled; it is unlikely to agree.’
    • ‘Unfortunately their findings were muddled in a story last week on the BBC News Online website - an error pounced on by politicians anxious to defend an important Scottish industry.’
    • ‘I wonder if you could clarify for our viewers in the United States and around the world exactly what your position is because it's sort of been muddled by various reports.’
    • ‘Ridley's erudition, for me, often muddles his message.’
    • ‘The problem here is the same as it's always been: too many conflicting backstories for the character either muddles the plot along the way, or it mucks up the ending [guess which one we're at now].’
    • ‘The two teams certainly entered into the seasonal spirit, if a little confusion muddled the role-playing.’
    • ‘However, I do not want to further muddle an already confusing issue with what, for most of us, are technicalities.’
    • ‘The Commerce Committee, even though it refrained from making a recommendation, has pointed out that the passage of this law would just add confusion to an already muddled area.’
    • ‘Time is indeed of the essence: the wall is muddling the USA's ‘Roadmap,’ and organized resistance has begun.’
    jumbled, in a jumble, in a muddle, in a mess, chaotic, in disorder, in disarray, topsy-turvy, disorganized, disordered, disorderly, out of place, out of order, mixed up, upside-down, at sixes and sevens, untidy, messy, scrambled, tangled
    confuse, mix up, jumble, jumble up, disarrange, disorganize, disorder, disturb, throw into disorder, get into a tangle, scramble, mess up
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    1. 1.1 Confuse (a person or their thoughts)
      ‘Paul was hopelessly muddled by the rates of exchange’
      • ‘All this action does is muddle the faithful and bring the faith into needless disrepute.’
      • ‘Although he is clear about the present nature of barbarism, he is rather muddled about his conception of socialism.’
      • ‘He was still muddled in his thoughts when the servants took away the last course - mostly untouched, as the silence and sobriety had damaged everyone's appetite.’
      • ‘You sensed it all along, but the knowledge was hopelessly muddled by the inherent drive to author new life.’
      • ‘Paul snapped to attention, Tessa muddling his thoughts.’
      • ‘Mechanics is mathematicians trying to be physicists, but not quite managing it and just muddling me.’
      • ‘Many rabid political partisans are so thin-skinned that any unfavorable truth about their heroes muddles their thinking.’
      • ‘Must have been the oncoming cold muddling my brain.’
      • ‘I cursed my hormonal body for muddling up my thinking.’
      • ‘When I made my witness statement I was muddled in the accounts which I gave in paragraph 6 and paragraph 8.’
      • ‘I'm just following my somewhat muddled thoughts where they take me.’
      • ‘My more muddled position is that bringing Paine's words and ideas into our world is like trying to plant cut flowers.’
      • ‘Liberals gravitate toward the gray to muddy the waters, to muddle people's thinking.’
      • ‘As an essayist, he's often contradictory and more than a bit muddled.’
      • ‘His thoughts were muddled with emotions, and he wasn't sure of anything.’
      • ‘The problem with this definition of expectations is that it muddles customers' judgments and their estimates of probability.’
      • ‘I was so muddled at the thought that he had almost kissed me that the words never registered.’
      • ‘She shook her head, the strange conversation muddling her thoughts.’
      • ‘I had taken in too many impressions; too many thoughts muddled my mind.’
      confused, in a state of confusion, bewildered, bemused, perplexed, disorientated, disoriented, at sea, in a muddle, befuddled, dazed
      incoherent, confused, muddle-headed, woolly, jumbled, disjointed
      bewilder, confuse, bemuse, perplex, puzzle, baffle, nonplus, mystify, confound, disorientate, disorient, befuddle, daze, addle
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    2. 1.2no object, with adverbial Busy oneself in an aimless or ineffective way.
      ‘he was muddling about in the kitchen’
      • ‘In fact, the Penguins muddled to a sixth place finish in the regular season standings with a .500 record to become one of eight playoff qualifiers.’
      • ‘That would preclude idiots from muddling around in areas they have no knowledge of.’
      • ‘After muddling around for a few days, he comes out fully in favor of the government's position and vows to endorse whatever the government proposes in relation to boat people.’
      • ‘Although a problem in computer ethics may seem clear initially, a little reflection reveals a conceptual muddle.’
      • ‘I'm just muddling around here like an ant in a potplant, not always realizing there are larger things out there than my little world.’
      • ‘For a number of years I've been muddling in the mire of trying to figure out who and what I am in relation to church, denomination, God etc.’
  • 2Mix (a drink) or stir (an ingredient) into a drink.

    • ‘Requiring your bartenders to cut the lemons and muddle them in front of the customer each time a drink is ordered is too arduous.’
    • ‘In a bar glass, muddle the kiwi slices with the sugar.’
    • ‘Instead of lime and sugar, we muddle oranges into the glass and use an orange syrup with the Bacardi.’
    • ‘Remember, showmanship behind the bar is a very important aspect of the job, and muddling provides bartenders a great chance to prove their worth.’
    • ‘The finest leaves get muddled for the drink; imperfect leaves go into a simple syrup.’
    • ‘Place the mint, tangerine, lime juice and syrup in a shaker tin, muddle all ingredients together.’
    • ‘The Ginger and Pear Martini combines pear-infused gin with fresh ginger muddled with Frangelico and simple syrup.’
    • ‘In a mixing glass, moderately muddle syrup, bitters, mint, orange and lime together.’
    • ‘Your barmen know how to muddle a mean Mojito, and house DJs pump out loud and happy vibes until late.’
    • ‘Using a citrus reamer, muddle the leaves until they are dark green and pasty; the total volume should reduce by about half, and they should have released quite a bit of liquid.’
    • ‘World class bar staff mix and muddle a variety of concoctions, from herb-infused cosmopolitans to fresh fruit Martinis.’
    • ‘In a shaker, muddle the ginger, add the others, plus ice.’
    • ‘Try the Opium Martini special: fresh root ginger muddled with homemade coriander syrup and shaken with a double shot of vodka.’
    • ‘Soak with bitters and gently muddle with a spoon.’
    mix, blend, agitate
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  • 1usually in singular An untidy and disorganized state or collection.

    ‘the finances were in a muddle’
    ‘a muddle of French, English, Ojibwa, and a dash of Gaelic’
    • ‘What often becomes shockingly obvious is that the garden is in a muddle.’
    • ‘But Mr Ekins said he thought the Government's transport policy was in a muddle.’
    • ‘They'll quickly realise that their things can't be found in a muddle, or that clothes don't walk to the washing machine on their own.’
    • ‘He says: ‘Ordinary events got Jennings in a muddle and we can identify with these.’’
    • ‘If we attempt to separate these two according to outer procedures we shall end in a muddle.’
    • ‘In other hands it would dissolve into a hopeless muddle of ideas.’
    • ‘It is possible, as with most muddles in the world, that the answer lies in history.’
    • ‘He'd assembled a Catalogue of Printed Books at Middle Hill, but it seemed a hopeless muddle.’
    • ‘Even if, like me, you think the polls are often in a muddle, they do tell a consistent story on economic management.’
    • ‘After all, a similar impetus fuelled the expansion of the public libraries and made them what they were before they lost their way in a muddle of video tapes, CDs and computer programs.’
    • ‘But the situation is, frankly, in a muddle right now.’
    • ‘At times it thinks it's a caper movie/thriller and on other occasions it wants to be seen as a comedy, but since it never commits to either approach, it ends up in a muddle.’
    • ‘Our patient is crowned king and expected to sort out this delightfully convoluted muddle.’
    • ‘Buffy moved away from him, her thoughts all in a muddle.’
    • ‘She dares us to dress down, to strip ourselves of our illusions and to acknowledge that, for most of the time, we live life in a muddle and ‘that every hour contains at least a moment of bewilderment or worse’.’
    • ‘Talking through teeth gritted against the gelid wind, we converse in a muddle of French, English and Arabic.’
    • ‘Willy-nilly and no doubt unwillingly, he is then drawn into the fight; in an instant the man in the middle has become the man in a muddle and nothing at all has been achieved.’
    • ‘I've had flu since Friday, in a muddle of tissues and lying down, drowsily watching DVDs, and no appetite.’
    • ‘Still, I certainly and completely understand why you're all in a muddle.’
    • ‘Henry got himself into a hopeless muddle about his sublet offices.’
    untidiness, disorder, disarray, clutter, heap, shambles, litter, tangle, jumble, mishmash, chaos, confusion, disorganization, turmoil
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    1. 1.1 A mistake arising from or resulting in confusion.
      ‘a bureaucratic muddle’
      • ‘Somehow, expenses muddles are tolerated in the Commons, where it is considered rather indecent to question what members do with their cash.’
      • ‘Most of them were muddles, rather than deliberately murderous delinquencies.’
      • ‘Shaw, to give him his credit, is trying to sort the muddle out.’
      • ‘But the bureaucratic muddle began after ministers farmed the project out to the Confederation of Scottish Local Authorities, the umbrella body for councils.’
      • ‘Despite the muddles of his campaign, his message won him nearly 49% of the votes.’
      • ‘The mayor is willing to get right in the middle of a bureaucratic muddle - to wade right in and say no to people.’
      • ‘It was all well intentioned but that's the old muddle.’
      • ‘Apart from my methodological muddles, what should we make of the oscillations in fossil diversity?’
      • ‘True, there were muddles and ostrich-like behaviour.’
      • ‘Npower has now sorted out the muddle, apologised to you and sent you a goodwill payment.’
      • ‘Where does this leave a poet who writes in his own muddles, creates his own errata?’
      • ‘Small firms are choking to death in a planning process increasingly marked by bureaucratic muddle and delay.’
      • ‘The four great battles of Cassino brought to a head all the muddles and contradictions of the Italian campaign.’
      • ‘Here in India, especially in relatively small cities like Dehra Doon, it feels like half magic a lot of the time and the only way to live through the muddles is to be determined to find them funny.’
      • ‘Firstly, she sorted out a problem I referred to her about muddles with my mum's pension credit.’
      • ‘The whole affair was, he insisted, a "muddle rather than a fiddle".’
      • ‘Fast-moving fun for younger viewers, centring on Lizzie Forbes, whose overworked imagination often embroils her in misunderstandings, muddles and miscellaneous mayhem.’
      • ‘She recently had a call from an ex-foster child who said, ‘I've rung to talk to you about my worries and muddles because I could always talk to you.’’
      bungle, mix-up, misunderstanding, mistake
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Phrasal Verbs

  • muddle through

    • Cope more or less satisfactorily despite lack of expertise, planning, or equipment.

      ‘we don't have an ultimate ambition; we just muddle through’
      • ‘However, I have enough faith in the inherent common sense of the human race to believe that we will, as ever, just manage to muddle through.’
      • ‘‘They are experts, but we just muddle along,’ said Mr Cross.’
      • ‘I noticed this morning that London Bridge station, after years of muddling through without a logo, has gained one.’
      • ‘Both have their own special charm, but whereas Paris is all about order, London is all about muddling through.’
      • ‘All too often, gifted children have to muddle through.’
      • ‘When I left my husband I knew it would be tough and I told myself we'd have to muddle through.’
      • ‘But generally - and I say this knowing full well that I am tempting every fate known to man - we have managed to muddle along quite well.’
      • ‘Y'know you're just muddling along in a better-than-average indie band and suddenly you're proclaimed the saviours of rock-and-roll.’
      • ‘It was not a particularly happy union, though they muddled along in the end.’
      • ‘Unfortunately, there's no hard and fast guidelines for us to follow - we just have to muddle through, minds fogged by desire.’
      • ‘Those of us who'd been happily muddling along for years and years were faced with a ‘for us or against us’ ultimatum from the more political of our younger brothers and sisters.’
      • ‘‘We just manage to muddle through but it's a bit of a strain over seven weeks,’ says Kenny Kingshott.’
      • ‘We can be Asian Welsh, Afro-Caribbean Scottish, Pakistani English, and all somehow muddle through together.’
      • ‘Restructuring will be disruptive for the top management of the industry, but it cannot afford to muddle along any longer.’
      • ‘Yet somehow I have managed to muddle through and have not done too badly out of life.’
      • ‘My brain is frantically muddling through, trying to make sense of what's happening to me.’
      • ‘There was I, muddling blithely along, thinking that give and take would get me and my Other Half through those rare, but bracing episodes of discord Americans refer to as ‘learning experiences’.’
      • ‘Under the present law there are several options, the least effective of which is to do nothing and hope those affected can muddle through.’
      • ‘All this makes for some short-term optimism, and even a feeling that we may somehow muddle through - but the longer-term odds are a different matter.’
      • ‘So there you are, muddling along with your new bog-standard toaster, when you get a surprise gift of a top-of-the-range model.’
      cope, manage, get along, get by, scrape along, scrape by, make do, make the best of a bad job
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  • muddle something up

    • Confuse two or more things with each other.

      ‘at the time, archaeology was commonly muddled up with paleontology’
      • ‘And so, because I didn't want to go through the rest of my life eating the wrong food and muddling homeopaths up with homosexuals, I selected the weakest lenses and set about choosing some frames.’
      • ‘No one could possibly object, for example, if marks were deducted for failing to remember the poem, or for muddling up the verses, or for serious errors of pronunciation.’
      • ‘Sadly, that doesn't stop the objectors muddling fact and fiction, as if their main source were Frankenstein, which was a novel written in the 19th century, of all the far away places.’
      • ‘This tension in the bill comes from it muddling the issue of compensating prisoners for unlawful treatment by the crown with compensating their victims for pain and suffering.’
      • ‘Thus, the matter is muddled up as a manager-employee conflict instead of a pure freedom of expression issue.’
      • ‘That's another kettle of fish entirely and I despair of physicians and others who confuse and muddle invalidity and melancholy as being one and the same thing.’
      • ‘He'll muddle it up; which is the illusion and which is real life?’
      • ‘"She has a sharp mind but can sometimes get her priorities muddled up.’
      • ‘Meanwhile, an amusing apology from the Star Tribune for muddling up ‘profligate’ and ‘prolific’.’
      • ‘Members of the community with intellectual disabilities will be thrilled about this bill, because they have always felt they are muddled up with people with mental ill-health.’
      • ‘I think a lot of people muddle celebrities up with soaps.’
      • ‘Mr Smith was dyslexic as a youngster and he used to muddle words up; he may have misunderstood matters.’


Late Middle English (in the sense ‘wallow in mud’): perhaps from Middle Dutch moddelen, frequentative of modden ‘dabble in mud’; compare with mud. The sense ‘confuse’ was initially associated with alcoholic drink (late 17th century), giving rise to ‘busy oneself in a confused way’ and ‘jumble up’ (mid 19th century).