Printable Version
Pronunciation: royl (not rail) Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1.To stir up the sediment in liquid, to muddy, muddle. 2. To stir up the emotions, to anger someone.

Notes: English speakers have long struggled with the diphthong [oi]. In Brooklyn and Queens it replaces [r] today, e.g. bird becomes [boid], third becomes [toid], and heard is pronounced [hoid]. In parts of the South just the opposite movement occurred in various dialects, the diphthong [oi] became [ai] as in "eye." In these dialects oil is pronounced [ail], point, [paint] (not [paynt]; see the Pronunciation Guide ), and boil, [bail], while roil is pronounced [rail] and spelled rile. The only one of these that made it into mainstream English was rile, which many US dictionaries now list as a variant pronunciation of roil. Many US Americans do not even realize the correct pronunciation of this verb is [royl], hence today's selection. There is an adjective roily "turbid, muddy, stirred up".

In Play: First, let me get this off my chest: "Nothing roils me more than hearing someone pronounce roil [rail] or seeing it spelled rile." Now, here is a quaint Southernism I just concocted to remind us of the original meaning of today's verb: "Don't roil the water where you may have to drink." It also serves to demonstrate that not all Southerners misspell this verb rile.

Word History: The origin of today's word is unknown, but it is probably a dialectal variation of roll. If so (with emphasis on "if"), then the split antedates Middle English when the two were already distinguished: rollen, roulen "roll" and roylen "roil". Roll was borrowed from Old French ro(u)ler, devolved from Vulgar Latin rotulare "roll", based on Latin rotula, the diminutive of rota "wheel". This word family was adopted by English as rotate, rotor, rotund, and rotunda. Latin rotundus "round", after passing through the wheels of Roman, French, and English history, emerged as English round, while a variant ended up naming the spiked wheel of a spur, the rowel.

Dr. Goodword,

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