Saturday, March 28, 2009


rumpus [RUM-pəs]
n. a noisy or violent disturbance; commotion

[Origin unknown]

It surprised me to find that the origin of rumpus is considered unknown. I would have thought it was related to romp ("boisterous play or frolic"), which has an accepted etymology: from Old French ramper ("to rear, rise up), of Germanic origin.

When I was a child, pre-Sesame Street, the most popular kids' show on public television was Romper Room. Although I don't hear it too often anymore, a room in a house set aside for rough play is called a rumpus room. Dictionaries tend to define a rumpus room -- the term first originated in 1940 -- as "a recreation room."

A gossip columnist in the Times of London, Adam Sherwin, on Thursday referred to a noisy commotion in the British House of Commons:
A rumpus in the computer room is the talk of the MPs’ den, Portcullis House. Evan Harris, the Lib Dem Member, was heard to complain loudly that an item of personal property had been destroyed. The object in question was a long-festering sushi lunch that had been disposed of.

In his book, The Wars of Watergate, Stanley Kutler quotes Bill Safire calling for members of Congress to make some noise after Senate Democrats required that Archibald Cox be appointed a Special Prosecutor, as a condition of approving Elliot Richardson as Attorney General:
Former Nixon speechwriter William Safire urged Congress to "raise the rumpus it is entitled to raise as a result of the Richardson confirmation double-cross."

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