Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Daily Hump: Rigmarole

There's always a frenetic energy at WordHumper HQ--a potent glee as we dive into the inner-workings of a new word each weekday morning. But sometimes, every once in a while, we stumble upon a word with such a meandering history that mere mention of its etymology turns even the most peaceful of lexicographers in to a raging pugilist. On days such as these an excitement so palpable hangs in the air that even monkey kung fu cannot distract us from the tasks at hand.*
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you rigmarole.

Rigmarole, a common enough word meaning a confused, rambling, petty discourse or a succession of lame tasks, is apparently an alteration of Ragman Roll. Ah, yes, the famous Ragman Roll...wait, what the hell is a Ragman Roll? It's time for some hot and heavy blockquote action beginning with our friends at Wikipedia:
Ragman Rolls the name given to the collection of instruments by which the nobility and gentry of Scotland were compelled to subscribe allegiance to King Edward I of England between the Conference of Norham in May 1291 and the final award in favor of Baliol in November 1292 and again in 1296.
And per the OED the Ragman Roll appointed "justices [of King Edward I] to hear and determine complaints of injuries done within 25 years previous" (a list of complaints could certainly be considered a rigmarole in our modern sense of the word). The American Heritage and Merriam Webster dictionaries say that Ragman Roll is from the Middle English Ragmane Rolle, which was a scroll used in Ragman, a game of chance. Per the OED Ragman was
a. A game of chance, app. played with a written roll having strings attached to the various items contained in it, one of which the player selected or ‘drew’ at random. In one form the game was a mere amusement, the items in the roll being verses descriptive of personal character.

b. King Ragman, feigned to be the author of the roll used in playing the game.
Who was King Ragman? It's possible he was a King Ragemon le Bon, no relation to Simon, who had a number of verses written about him around the year 1290. Michael Quinion over at World Wide Words points out that some believe the name of the game Ragman came "from rag in the sense of tatters, used as a name for a devil (as in ragamuffin, originally a demon)." The Ragemon le Bon theory seems much more likely given that it can't be mere coincidence that King Eddie I issued his so-called Ragman Roll at the Conference of Norham just one year after the Ragemon verses were written.

In conclusion, here's the timeline as I see it:
Circa 1290: Versus are written about King Ragemon le Bon, which spawns a game, Ragman
May 1291: Conference of Norham - King Edward I issues his Ragman Roll, so named because for whatever reason it reminded people of the game Ragman
Sometime later: Ragman Roll comes to mean a rambling discourse
Mid 18th c: Per the OED, the word rig-my-role starts appearing meaning a rambling discourse
Late 18th c: Rigmarole appears with modern spelling

*Pure poppycock, actually--monkey kung fu *always* distracts us.

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:: posted by David, 8:21 AM


Very interesting, I wonder how the "rag" became "rig"?
Blogger Martin, at 10:10 AM  

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