IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

#romneyshambles explained

By now you might have heard that Mitt Romney's trip to the United Kingdom is not going very well.

By now you might have heard that Mitt Romney's trip to the United Kingdom is not going very well. The Guardian is keeping a running count of his various missteps—from demeaning the London Olympics to accidentally revealing classified information—and it's not pretty.

In fact, it's gotten so bad that tweeters on both sides of the Atlantic are mocking the Republican presidential candidate's repeated stumbles with the hashtag "#romneyshambles." The intent behind the hashtag is easy enough to figure out: "Romney" because of Mitt Romney, and "shambles" because his journey across the pond has become an unmitigated disaster. But figuring out exactly where the hashtag came from, and why it's so funny, requires a little background knowledge of British pop culture.

"Romneyshambles" is a bastardization of the word "omnishambles," which itself comes from a popular BBC sitcom called The Thick Of It. The show, which will air its fourth season this fall, is a black-hearted, profanity-laden satire of UK politics, set in the government's fictional Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship (DOSAC). A typical episode begins when the department's minister or staff makes a huge political blunder, which the Prime Minister's PR enforcer (an acid-tongued Scot named Malcolm Tucker) has to then fix.

In the first episode of the third season, after learning that the new minister of DOSAC is a public relations nightmare, Tucker dubs her "the [expletive deleted] omnishambles." Here's some video of the now-famous scene. Warning: like pretty much every scene in the show, it contains a lot of swearing.

The Thick Of It is a popular show, but the popularity of the word "omnishambles" didn't really take off until April of this year, when Labour party leader Ed Milliband famously used it to describe Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron's budget. During a speech on the floor of parliament, Milliband said, "we’re all keen to hear the Prime Minister’s view as to why he thinks, four weeks on from the budget, even people within Downing Street [home of the Prime Minister's official residence] are calling it an ‘omnishambles’ budget."


Since then, the word has formally entered the British political lexicon. Scottish journalist Alex Massie even wrote an article for the American magazine Foreign Policy with a title that labels Cameron, "Mr. Omnishambles." Now, with #romneyshambles penetrating American political consciousness, our own political vocabulary just got a little more colorful.