From shaking your tail feathers to shaking yourself out of bed

On Wednesday, I wrote about rouse in its more unfamiliar form (outside of Australia and New Zealand, that is). More commonly, we use rouse to mean to wake up or to stir up, which are the definitions given by the American Heritage Dictionary. But the etymology of rouse, and its many other uses, are interesting.

The AHD says it is from the "Middle English rousen, meaning to shake the feathers: used of a hawk, perhaps from the Old French reuser, ruser, meaning to repel, push back, from the Vulgar Latin recūsāre, from the Latin, meaning to refuse."

The etymology in the OED (remember it is free right now?) says rouse was "Originally a technical term in hawking and hunting, and so presumably of Anglo-Norman or Old French origin, but the precise source is obscure. In general use common after circa 1585, and frequently strengthened by 'up.' "

The AHD doesn't give the older definitions, but that's the specialty of the OED. Here are its definitions as a verb, omitting a few unhelpful and repetitive ones since there are so many:

  • 1. Obsolete. Of a hawk: To shake the feathers.
  • 2. To cause (game) to rise or issue from cover or lair.
  • 3a. Obsolete. To raise or set up, to ruffle.
  • 3b. Obsolete. To raise or lift up.
  • 4a. To cause to start up from slumber or repose; to awaken from sleep, meditation, etc.
  • 4b. Rare. To disturb, chase away (sleep).
  • 5a. Figurative. To awaken or startle (one) from a state of ease or security
  • 5b. Figurative. To stir up, excite to vigorous action or thought, to provoke to activity
  • 5d. Figurative. To provoke to anger.
  • 7a. To stir up, agitate, put into motion, bring into an active state.
  • 7b. To stir up, excite, inflame (a feeling).
  • 7c. To stir (a liquid, especially beer while brewing).
  • 8. Nautical. To haul in, out, or up with force.
  • 13a. To get up from sleep or repose; to waken up
  • 13b. Figurative. To become active; to bestir oneself, take heart or courage, etc.

A verb with so many uses, of course, can only lead to a few related nouns:

  • 1. Obsolete. A shake (of the feathers, etc.).
  • 2. Military. The signal for arousing; the réveille.
  • 3. A violent stir. Also rouse-out.

Now that's a useful word, whether you are a falconer, a sailor, a soldier, a brewer, or just someone who can't get out of bed in the morning.