Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Ruckus

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 7, 2012

Ruckus is one of those interesting manufactured words that has made its way into legitimate dictionaries.

On August 23, 2008 the Burbank Leader newspaper ran a story about 60 teachers gathered in the Joaquin Miller Elementary School library for a workshop on music education.  The workshop was a rousing success as teachers broke library rules, banging on drums and playing kazoos.  In fact, it was such a spirit affair that the headline read:

Teachers Make A Ruckus For Education:  Arts Seminar On Teaching Kids Music Immerses District Educators In Rhythm And Resonance

On December 14, 1961 the Florence Times in Alabama ran Peter Edson’s column on the Industrial Unions Department Conference held in Washington, DC.  The article was entitled, “Reuther And Building Trades Stir Jurisdictional Brew” and reported on the internal warfare in building trades craft unions against the AFL-CIO. The first paragraph read:

There’s another side of the story to the latest ruckus stirred up by United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther.

The Miami News reported about what was colloquially referred to as Jacksonville’s favourite winter sport on February 15, 1922.  Supposedly this winter sport was none other than chasing the fire apparatus due to the fact that the fire department was sorely overworked according to Chief Thomas W. Haney.  In fact, the news article made it clear just how crazy things were at fire stations in town.

It seems that Jacksonville, as befitting a big town, has a system whereby the major station are always named.  For instance, when No. 1 goes on a run, station No. 2 hastens to fill its place.  No. 3 moving up to No. 2, etc.  As a result, an awful ruckus turns loose when the fire bell rings.  The screeching sirens penetrate the air as the various apparatus scurries in all directions.  No. 1 station responds to an alarm and passes No. 2 racing noisily to man the station made vacant.  The fire-chasing fan chases hither and thither, not knowing which apparatus to follow.

The Random House Dictionary indicates that the word is an Americanism that was first documented in 1885.   However, the following is found in the Tahlequah, OK newspaper, the Cherokee Advocate published of 24 February 1882:

It is but right that they should know how the matter stands, and have fair warning to avoid a “pending” rucus of some sort.

For those who are wondering what two words are responsible for this hybrid, it comes from the German word for back, rücken, and ruction which was a corruption of the word “insurrection” that had been cropped to just ruction. The word ruckus quickly became a popular synonym for any loud and potentially destructive quarrel or disturbance.

Based on this information, Idiomation believes that ruckus in its various forms was part of the vernacular as early as the first half of the 1800s.

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2 Responses to “Ruckus”

  1. Our language is so very changeable over time. I remember watching the movie “Little Women” and hearing Meg say to Jo, “Don’t say ‘awful,’ it’s slang.” I’ve learned recently that Dr. Seuss coined the words ‘grinch’ and ‘nerd,’ and that the word ‘chortle’ is an invention of Lewis Carrol.

    In high school my French teacher told my class that in France there is actually a council that has to approve the addition of new words to their language. As of the 1980s they had reluctantly decided to call a parking lot ‘le parking.’ American English, in contrast, has an open door policy. We may resist the new inclusion of a word for a little while, but sooner or later we find ourselves saying it. For instance, I actually caught myself saying the word “diss” the other day. I remember in the nineties when that word appeared. I was working on a crisis line and a young man said “Everybody’s dissing me.” Disrespecting me. I still hate that little bit of slang, but it seems, to paraphrase Star Trek, that “resistance is futile.”

  2. Dear Idiomation,
    Speaking of which, Daruis Rucker is a black country singer. And on an episode of Boondocks Uncle Ruckus sung country. Whenever he performed he would sing against blacks.. And if you take the *us* out of Darius and the *Ruck* out of Rucker and combined them you’d get Ruckus.
    Cheerio

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