Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Roynish Clone

Wish I could remember where I found this one, but I can’t. It simply appeared mysteriously on my unsorted list of candidates for word of the week. I chose it for this post simply because we’re now at “R” and it was the first on the list to begin with this letter. It’s also the first word of the week to have strong Shakespearean association, as many definitions of it cite a line spoken to Duke Frederick in As You Like It: “My lord, the roynish clown, at whom so oft Your Grace was wont to laugh, is also missing.”
roynish (ROIN-ish) — adjective: mangy; scabby; mean; paltry; troublesome.
This tragically out-of-use word, which is sometimes also spelled roinish, probably doesn’t mean all of those things at once but can instead mean any of them in a given social situation. You have to admit, however, that one word that could potentially pack in all five slams against one’s hygiene or demeanor is pretty great, especially because it doesn’t sound like a bad word. If put in the proper context, it could sound downright regal.

The Wiktionary claims that roynish comes from the French rogneux, which in turn came from the French word rogne, meaning “scab,” “mange,” or “itch.” Through, I found another etymology. (And, yes, I realize that comparing Wiktionary information against information could possibly be as worthwhile a venture as comparing bus stop restroom graffiti with tenement elevator graffiti. “This one says ‘Mexico sucks balls’ while the other says ‘U.S.A. sucks cock.’ What to make of this disparity?”) According to an affiliate called simply “Obscure Words” — which itself is rather obscure, as it’s not linked to in any way from — roynish traces back to the French roin, “scurf”or “scab” to the Vulgar Latin ronea. My non-Vulgar Latin dictionary doesn’t have an entry for ronea and efforts to find an online Vulgar Latin dictionary resulted only in online dictionary definitions of the term “Vulgar Latin,” so I guess that path ends there.

The “Obscure Words” definition also offers the spelling roinous, which Microsoft Word AutoCorrect insists on changing to ruinous. While I’m on the subject of technical failures, a Google search for the spelling roinish offers the correction “Did you mean finish?” No, Google, I didn’t. I’m not yet that stupid.

Regardless of precisely where the term came from, I enjoy it as a wonderfully awful alternative to the overused stable of pejorative adjectives we English-speakers have to use against unpleasant people. As this blog demonstrates in the post “Thou roynish, eye-offending hedge-pig,” roynish appears as one of the mix-and-match terms in the Elizabethan Curse Generator, which surely will delight us all.

Previous words of the week:


  1. Roynish. I like it. Have you come across magniloquent? Its one of my new favorite concepts, and amuses me that it is a word.

    By the way, since we were discussing Kill Bill a few weeks ago, I thought of you when I came across this. If the movie had been written as a comedy, this pivotal scene from the second volume would probably have been something like that.