Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
June 22nd, 2015
Episode 234 of 848 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 22, 2015 is: roustabout \ROWSS-tuh-bowt\ noun 1 a : deckhand b : a person who loads and unloads ships at a seaport 2 : an unskilled or semiskilled laborer especially in an oil field or refinery 3 : a circus worker who erects and dismantles tents, cares for the grounds, and handles animals and equipment 4 : a person with no permanent home or regular occupation; also : one who stirs up trouble Examples: Nathan worked for years as a roustabout in the oil fields of Alaska until he earned enough money to go to college and become a petroleum engineer. "The Copenhagen-based Berdino family, led by patriarch Benny Berdino, own the Arena Cirkus, a troupe that started out with just one trailer and now stretches to several, with dozens of performers, animals, and roustabouts working on the payroll." Leslie Felperin, Hollywood Reporter, April 27, 2015 Did you know? Circus roustabouts (who erect and dismantle tents, care for the grounds, and handle animals and equipment) are commonly associated with circus animals, of course, but they also have a connection with game birds, at least in terms of etymology. Roustabout comes from roust, which is an alteration of rouse, a verb from Middle English that originally meant "to shake the feathers" (as in the way a bird might ruffle its feathers or shake its plumage when it is settling down or grooming itself). Rouse, which today is a synonym of awaken, also formerly meant "to cause to break from cover," a sense that may have influenced the modern meaning of roust: "to drive (as from bed) roughly or unceremoniously."