Daily Archives: August 12, 2012


You can’t take children wine tasting, but word tasting is for all ages. When you come to a wordery, you will hear from one corner of the campus a rumble of a rambunctious rabble, a rumbustious and rumpled bunch of tots reducing surroundings to rubble or at least jumping and romping and thumping and stomping à la Romper Room. Indeed, you will have found the rumpus room.

Not that a rumpus room is solely for children. It’s a rec room that can be a wreck room. But you know who’s most likely to make a domestic rumpus. In wits and words children may still be learning, but in energy and noise they surely trump us.

But adults, too, may make a rumpus. The word showed up in the mid-1700s in reference to noisy and boisterous and raucous behaviour of adults, commotions and uproars and such – and more figuratively to disagreements and set-tos and disputes. In the adult word, if someone’s making a rumpus they may well mean to thump us (or kick our rumps) – whereas for anyone in a Jolly Jumper it’s just the expected ruckus. At least so North Americans think – rumpus room appears to have originated in America by 1930. (It occurs to me that Brits may be less likely to have semi-finished basement rooms conducive to the purpose.)

I cleave more to the childlike approach. That is, after all, how language really gets made most of the time. In the world of words, there are some that are carefully planted and cultivated, but there are more that grow wild and unkempt or are simply jumbled and bumped together from bits and parts in fits and starts (you start with what fits, and have a fit with it to make someone start). Such a one is rumpus. Etymologists stand and scratch their head as they look at it: it’s like a castle made with bits of Lego and puzzle pieces from around the room. Does this piece go with this set, or… Well, here’s a bit of romp, and there’s a bit of robustious, and perhaps there’s an influence from rump, and there’s the Latin influence evident in the us ending… ruckus is more than a century newer, so if there’s any influence it goes the other way…

But while those who relish the taste of words may like knowing the provenance of their dishes, such knowledge is not indispensable; when you hear the noise that this word brings to mind, and you get the opening roll of the tongue and the yummy taste of rum (just ignore that note of pus), if you like it you are free to declare the word scrumptious.

Thanks to Gael Spivak for suggesting today’s word.