• ruse •
Pronunciation: ruz • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. (Hunting) The doubling back or other clever turn of an animal to elude the dogs. 2. A trick, pretense, dodge, shifty action, a stratagem intended to mislead.
Notes: Today's Good Word is a lexical orphan, without derivatives. You may use it as a verb, but that is rarely done. Since it looks like the verb use and sounds like use, its spelling presents no problems.
In Play: English farmers of centuries past often dragged red (smoked) herrings on a string around and away from their fields during hunting season as a ruse to (mis)lead the dogs and horses behind them away from their crops. Hunters called this "faulting the dogs", since the odor of the herring overpowered that of the fox or other prey. That is the origin of the English expression red herring, a misleading question or issue that diverts the discussion away from its focus. Today, ruse still implies leading someone or something astray: "Grant's claim that he gave at the office is just a ruse to keep fund-raisers at bay."
Word History: Today's Good Word has come a long way. English borrowed it from Old French ruser "to drive back". This verb devolved from Latin recusare "to reject", a verb itself a reduction of earlier re- "back" + causari "to give as a reason" from causa "purpose, reason". (Only the S of causa remains in ruse.) Although evidence abounds as to how causa went on to enter other words, coming to English as accuse, recuse, and others, its own origin remains a mystery.