• rampant •
Pronunciation: ræmp-ênt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Standing up on the rear legs, rearing. 2. Running wild, out of control, growing uncontrolled, spreading.
Notes: Today's Good Word comes from a good family--and a large one. It is related to rampage, to the noun and verb ramp, as well as ramparts. It also sports a predictable adverb, rampantly.
In Play: The basic sense of today's word, still rampant in the field of heraldry, is that of an animal standing on its hind legs: "Archer Bowman was disappointed to discover that his family's coat of arms portrayed a goat rampant on a field of briars." Nonetheless, it is no doubt more widely used today in the sense of "out of control": "Anita Job lost her position at the company because she allowed her staff to run rampant in the office."
Word History: All evidence points to French as the source of today's word. Ramper in French, however, means "to crawl, creep" and its present participle, rampant, means "crawling, creeping", a far cry from the sense of the English word based on it. What happened? Well, somewhere along the way this verb developed the sense of "to climb", a reasonable semantic slip if you are talking about lizards or vines, both frequent subjects of the Anglo-Norman verb. From the sense of "climb" we look at a horse rearing on its hind legs and see that, in fact, it seems to be attempting to climb. However, the horse is usually out of control when it rears up, so there you have it. How the word originally got into the French spoken during the Norman Period of English history is a mystery.