Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adv. With the top downward and the bottom up; upside-down.
  • adv. In or into a state of utter disorder or confusion: "turning our ordered life topsy-turvy” ( Anne Tyler).
  • adj. Turned or positioned upside down; inverted.
  • adj. Confused or disordered.
  • n. The quality or condition of being topsy-turvy.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. Backwards or upside-down; disorderly; chaotic.
  • adv. Backwards or upside-down; disorderly; chaotically.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adv. In an inverted posture; with the top or head downward; upside down.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Upside down; in reverse of the natural order; hence, in a state of confusion or chaos: formerly sometimes followed by down.
  • Turned upside down; upset; hence, confused; disordered; chaotic.
  • n. A topsyturvy condition; great disorder; confusion; chaos.
  • To turn upside down; upset.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adv. in a disordered manner
  • adj. in utter disorder
  • adv. in disorderly haste

Etymologies

Probably from top1 + obsolete terve, to overturn (from Middle English terven).
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
Earlier topside-turvey, topsy-tervy; probably for top so turvy; that is, the top as turvy, as it were turvy, where turvy probably means "overturned", from Anglo-Saxon torfian to throw. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • The Bushmen suggest that we have turned the basic truths of living upside-down and that is why practically everything in our lives, from the global economy to our homes, schools, politics, and ecology, is in such a topsy-turvy mess.

    The Bushman Way of Tracking God

  • He showed some mettle and remained in the game, which was a topsy-turvy affair.

    Bosh Jumper Puts Heat Over Mavericks

  • The ticket taker stares in disbelief at the topsy-turvy fun house.

    Soul Trapper

  • Sarah Braverman endured a topsy-turvy year, between raising her teens, writing her play and facing her ex-husband — all of which was relayed with remarkable relatability, likability and versatility by Graham.

    Emmys: TVGuide.com's Picks for Lead Actress in a Drama

  • Set against the gorgeous backdrop of Rome, Tom Rachman’s wry, vibrant debut follows the topsy-turvy private lives of the reporters, editors, and executives of an international English language newspaper as they struggle to keep itand themselvesafloat.

    Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese: Questions

  • In doing so, they cut straight through the moral fog that has enveloped too many, preventing them, at great cost, from grasping compelling truths in today's topsy-turvy world.

    David Harris: Spain's Pro-Israel Tag Team

  • The fact that Rory Reid is avoiding his surname as he runs for governor shows how topsy-turvy this election year has become.

    Harry Reid's Son Rory Avoids The Family Name In Bid For Governor

  • A dispatch from the Associated Press's Liz Sidoti illustrates the topsy-turvy results:

    Unstable Condition

  • But given the topsy-turvy history of military tribunals, which have been successfully challenged in the courts, Justice officials expect the 9/11 trials will remain unresolved by the time Mr. Obama seeks reelection in 2012.

    Deal Near on Gitmo, Trials for Detainees

  • In effect, the victims were being punished, a topsy-turvy outcome fairly typical of the SEC's handling of wrongdoing by large corporations in cases like these.

    Dan Collins: Judge Jed Rakoff Belongs on the Supreme Court

Comments

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  • I LOVE this word

    October 10, 2011

  • "How is it possible after all we accomplished?" the president (LB Johnson) cried in anguish. "How could it be? Is the world topsy-turvy?"

    May 11, 2008