Grammar

‘Rigmarole’? No, There’s No Letter Missing!

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I hate to burst any bubbles, but this word is typically pronounced with one more syllable than its proper spelling would suggest.

The English language certainly can find unique ways to torture us at times. Consider the word rigmarole.

I suspect that if you asked most people to spell the word on paper, they’d add a syllable. To be fair, the would probably misspell it because of the way you pronounce it. I guess that would make you a grammatical accessory before the fact, right?

Most people pronounce rigmarole as if it had an extra vowel between the G and the M. In fact, I found several references in a quick Google search of people asking about the word “rigamarole.” There’s no such word.

Curiously, though, if you look the word up in Merriam-Webster, while it spells the word correctly, it acknowledges that alternate pronunciation first: “?ri-g?-m?-?r?l.” It offers the correct pronunciation, which begins “?rig-m?-….”

The fact that it lists the pronunciation with the extra syllable first suggest that’s the most common pronunciation!

Back in July 2021, Merriam-Webster tweeted the word as its word of the day. It listed the four-syllable pronunciation right below the three-syllable spelling:

So where did it come from?

Anytime you encounter a word you’re curious about, one of the greatest resources to consult is the Online Etymology Dictionary. Unlike most dictionaries, which simply define words, this one explains how the words came into our language.

When you look up rigmarole in the OED, you find that it entered our language back in 1736. Clearly, we’ve had a long time to work in that curious extra syllable!

OED defines the word as “a long, rambling discourse; incoherent harangue.” A harangue is another less commonly-used word, which refers to a ranting speech.

OED explains its origin dates even further back and relates to words that referred to a list of charges or even a slanderer.

It entered English from a Kentish colloquialism of “ragman role,” which referred to a “long list, roster or catalogue.”

The extra syllable remains a mystery. It may be that it’s easier to pronounce if you add it. There’s no clear explanation that seems to satisfy the question any better than that.

But a word like rigmarole — and harangue, for that matter — is one that we normally hear but rarely see spelled out. It may be that the pronunciation simply evolved from one person “mishearing” the word and pronouncing it as best they could.

Mispronunciations can spread like wildfire. Unfortunately, it seems that’s what may have happened here.

But if I find a better explanation, I’ll be sure to update the post!

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.

1 Comment

  • It’s funny that two of the words used to describe “rigmarole” are harangue and catalogue. Surely, we could borrow one of those silent vowels to place between the g and m. ??

    Whenever I hear a medical professional say the word “dilate” with an “a” between the “i” and “l,” I become suspect of their abilities to treat. The other word that is mispronounced frequently, and on a daily basis, is “temperature.” I always wonder why meteorologists (not meterologists, by the way) go through their training without learning that the word is not pronounced “temperture” or “tempature.” I remember a local meteorologist who had trouble saying “precipitation,” pronouncing it “percipitation” more often than not.

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