Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Word Nerd Sez: R is for ...


There's no deep meaning behind my picking this "r" word, except that it's one of my favorite words and it was time to get back to my Word Nerd feature. Okay, I'll admit that maybe some of my tae kwon do students fall into the category of "rambunctious," and it's a much nicer word to use to describe them than "squirrelly" or "obnoxious" or "Lord, doesn't that kid ever stop?" It's also a word that aroused my curiosity, because there are no obvious clues to it's origin—no prefixes or word stubs or anything. So I headed over to my friendly Merriam-Webster site:

rambunctious: marked by uncontrollable exuberance; unruly.

Well, "uncontrollable exuberance" sure describes one of my regular students, although he's so good-natured I couldn't really describe him as unruly. "Rambunctious" is a great word to describe a lot of kids, though. (Especially since most of them don't understand what you mean when you say it, heheheh.) Anyway, let's get to the interesting part, the etymology.

rambunctious—Date: 1830; probably alteration of rumbustious (Oh, goody! An etymological scavenger hunt!)

rumbustious—Date: 1778; alteration of robustious (yippee! more definitions to chase!)

robustious—Date: c. 1548: robust; vigorous in a rough or unrefined way; boisterous (Aha! Now we come to the point!)

robust—having or showing vigor or strength, from the Latin robustus, oaken or strong, taken from the Latin robur, oak.

Now that's a path I never would have imagined for this word. It started with Latin, but altered its sound to become a word that sounds more uncontrollably exuberant than the original. Robustious sounds all Latin and stuffy (maybe one of those made-up names from Life of Brian); rambunctious sounds stubborn (like a ram) and hard to chase. Kind of like its definition. It's much more fun chasing rambunctious word origins, however, and making interesting discoveries like this one.

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