Helter-Skelter Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How To Use This Phrase

Have you heard the Beatles’ Song “Helter Skelter” and wondered what helterskelter’s meaning is? Well, here is the history of the word helter-skelter.

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Helter Skelter: It’s a popular Beatles song from 1968 that many say was the predecessor of the heavy metal of the seventies. It was a song written to try and outdo the song “I Can See For Miles” by rival band The Who. And the infamous murderer Charles Manson claimed it as inspiration for his killings.

Still, helter-skelter is more than a series of sounds or the name of a Beatles song. It’s an actual word with hundreds of years of history that can be used to liven up your writing and your speech. With that in mind, let’s break down the meaning of the word helter-skelter so you can discover how you can use it in your life.

What Are the Definitions of Helter-Skelter?

There are a few different definitions for helter-skelter, and they might vary depending on what type of English you speak. For example, the word is much more popular in Britain than it is in the United States. We’ll talk more about the regional differences in a minute, but here are the common definitions of the word according to the dictionary. 

  • As an adverb: This definition can be used to describe an action that is taking place in confusion, disorder, or haste. 
  • As a noun: You can also use it as a noun to refer to the actual confusion or haste itself.
  • As a noun: “This is an amusement slide ride that is mostly found in the UK, not the US. This is what the Beatles’ song was based on. 
  • As an adjective: You can also use the word as an adjective to describe a subject that is confusedly hurried and lacks order.

By and large, perhaps because of the fairground attraction, the word helter-skelter is much more popular in British English than it is in American English. 

Generally speaking, this word is used to convey confusion and disorder. It’s a versatile word that can be adapted to almost any chaotic situation.

The History of the Word Helter-Skelter  

The word helter-skelter was first seen in its current form in the late 16th century CE. Pairs of rhyming words were popular during this time in history, with other phrases in existence like “hurly-burly, “pell-mell,” or “harum-scarum.” 

Helter-skelter is most likely derived from the Middle English word skelte, which is a verb meaning “to hasten.” The rhyming trend got a hold of the word, and helter-skelter was born. However, it could have also come from the Middle English word skelten, which means “to come or to go.” 

One of the first known uses of the word comes from William Shakespear’s play Henry IV: “And helter-skelter I have rode to thee.” However, Shakespear was not the person who came up with the term. The word’s original creator remains a mystery. 

The popular fairground ride was not created for another three centuries. The helter-skelter ride first showed up in the city of Hull in the early 1900s. It’s a large tower shaped like a lighthouse, with a slide that circles down the outside of the tower. Children would climb up from the inside and ride down the slide on mats. 

Helter-Skelter in Culture

This popular British fairgrounds attraction is what inspired Paul McCartney to write the famous Beatles song “Helter-Skelter” in 1968 for The White Album. The song was meant to be a helter-skelter in and of itself. McCartney wrote it with the intention of writing the loudest, dirtiest, most aggressive song possible in an attempt to write an even more outlandish and chaotic song than The Who.

The following year, Charles Manson was indicted for murder. In his trial, Manson expressed that he believed the song was about an impending race war, and it was what motivated him in his heinous acts. Paul McCartney, John Lennon, and The Beatles were obviously appalled that their song would be misinterpreted in such a way, and they have repeatedly confirmed that the song was taken wildly out of context by Manson.

Since then, the song has been covered by a variety of artists, including the band U2, in hopes that they could remove the stains on its legacy. These musicians wish to bring it out of the Beatles archive so that it could be recognized for the important monument in music history that it is. 

Examples of Helter-Skelter in a Sentence

Here are some ways you might see the word helter-skelter used in various sentences: 

The children were running all helter-skelter away from the goats who had just escaped their pen.

I got separated from my wife due to the helter-skelter caused by the fire alarm.

The announcement that The Beatles were breaking up caused quite the helter-skelter amongst the fans.

‘Look, Dad, I’m on the Helter-Skelter!’ he screamed from the top of the slide.

The helter-skelter conference was a complete waste of time due to a complete lack of organization and planning.

The young teenager’s room was littered with a helter-skelter of dirty laundry, soda cans, and who knows what else.

What Are Synonyms of Helter-Skelter?

Here’s a list of synonyms for helter-skelter that you would find in a thesaurus:

  • Amuck
  • Berserkly  
  • Frantically
  • Hectically 
  • Wildly 
  • Clatter
  • Commotion
  • Disturbance
  • Hullabaloo
  • Pandemonium 
  • Flying
  • Hasty
  • Hurried
  • Rushed
  • Unplanned


Now you’re familiar with the word helter-skelter. Just as Shakespeare used it to make his writing more engaging and interesting, you can use it, too. Helter-skelter is a word that can give your language a livelier, more comedic energy. 

So get out there and use your newfound word. If you ever need a refresher, just come back to this page for all the information on helter-skelter that you’ll need. 


  1. HELTER-SKELTER | Cambridge English Dictionary 
  2. Origin of: Helter-skelter | Idiom Origins 
  3. Helter-skelter Definition & Meaning | Dictionary.com