Printable Version
Pronunciation: rai-fêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. To search antagonistically with the intent of taking the object search for. 2. To steal. 3.To cut spiral grooves in rifle barrel or other tube.

Notes: Today's Good Word, as pointed out by our contributor, is often confused with riffle "to flip through", such as the pages of a book or "to search through rapidly", such as a purse or refrigerator. The latter has no implication of taking the object sought, especially if it belongs to someone else. A rifler is someone who rifles in the first sense, or simply a robber or looter.

In Play: Let's begin with a sentence that combines riffle with rifle in its second sense: "Robin riffled though his victim's purse and rifled her wallet." Rifling does not always imply stealing though it is conducted with antagonistic intent: "McDonald rifled his wife's purse for credit card receipts." Again, "The police rifled the apartment for controlled substances."

Word History: In Middle English today's word was riflen "to plunder", from Old French rifler "to scratch, brush up against", borrowed from Old High German riffilon "to scrape, scratch", source also of Old Norse rifa "to rive, split, crack", and Danish rift "a scratch". Apparently, scratching was at one time associated with stealing in Germanic languages. It seems French also maintained that association because rifler is akin to rafler "to swipe, nick, pilfer". (Let's all now tip our hats to David Myer of Melbourne, Australia, for yet another excellent Good Word from hundreds of posts over the past 11 years.)

Dr. Goodword,

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