• raffle •
Pronunciation: ræ-fêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A lottery in which people purchase numbered tickets that go into a container. If your ticket number is selected in a random drawing from that container, you win a prize. 2. A kind of dice game or the roll of three or two of a kind in a game of dice. 3. Debris, rubbish, trash.
Notes: Today's Good Word is a bit of a mystery. No one really knows where it comes from, hence who its relatives are. For sure there are nouns raffler and raffling. It may also be used as a verb, to raffle (off) something. Beyond these few obvious relatives, it is difficult to make connections with other seemingly related words for reasons laid out in the Word History.
In Play: Some wag suggested that raffles might be a faster, less expensive, and equally effective way of choosing political leaders. Today's word contains features that commend it to metaphorical speech. Dexter Petley wrote in White Lies (2003): "I closed my mind like it was a box of raffle tickets in the Easter Prize Draw." Don't forget today's Good Word may be used as a verb: "Which is likely to bring in more money: should I raffle my rifle collection or auction it off?"
Word History: Today's Good Word seems to have come from Old French rafle "a dice game", but Middle French also had an expression sans y laisser rifle ou rafle "without leaving anything whatsoever behind", which suggests a connection with "plunder, prize, booty". Obviously, English pinched riff-raff from the French, and some English speakers even extended it to riffle-raffle. It could have been that the name of the dice game was carried over to contemporary raffles because the dice game had winnings based on luck. Since raffles often have multiple prizes, this would fit in with the French expression. So, we have a host of words that fit together phonetically, but they offer only hints of a semantic trail. (Today we thank Gail Rallen, Grand Panjandrum in the Alpha Agora, for today's mysterious Good Word. )