Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Boisterous - Until Someone Loses an Eye ...

Boisterous, Rowdy, Loud, Yob,
Photo by B.Rosen



Adjective. Late Middle English.
[Alteration of BOISTOUS, long obsolete word (except dialectical) meaning
(1) of a person: rustic, coarse, unpolished, (2) massive bulky, corpulent, (3) fierce powerful, rough. Origin unknown.]

1 obsolete. Coarse in texture; rank; stiff, unyielding. LME-E18

obsolete. Of a thing: violent in action or properties. M16-L17

3(a) Of a person or action: rough and turbulent in behaviour and speech;
(now especially) exuberant, noisily cheerful. M16

3(b) obsolete. Savage, truculent. L16-L18

4 obsolete. Rough in effect or operation. L16-E17

5 Of wind, weather, etc.: rough, stormy, wild. L16

6 obsolete. Massive, bulky, cumbrous. L16-M17

Also: boisterously adverb LME. boisterousness noun LME.

There is a rough adolescence to boisterous behavior - people bumping into each other and shouting and generally causing a scene. It’s a good time with an edge, and the kind of attitude that could kick off a fight or leave someone in tears. I think of this word when a group of teenagers is heading for public transportation, yelling and teasing each other and having a good time, but in a show-off, edgy sort of way. You imagine the shortest kid getting taunted, and you hope they don’t end up sitting behind you and kicking your seat. I also think of boisterous when I see “stag parties” in Dublin - big groups of men celebrating the upcoming wedding of one of their buddies. These parties involve drinking and boisterous high spirits, and the kind of “fun” that could end in a brawl or, on better nights, some terrible, terrible singing. Boisterous is never a quiet good time of people joking and hanging out in a park, but rather a rowdy crowd looking to have fun by causing some trouble. It draws an audience and sets people on edge.

All this makes sense, given the older, obsolete meanings of the word. With original meanings like rank, cumbrous, and violent in action or properties, it stands to reason that boisterous doesn't bring to mind a pleasant game of cards. It’s a rollicking fun state of mind if you’re in the middle of it … until the fun stops for one reason or another. It’s a dance party that’s about to get closed down for a noise complaint, or a bunch of kids rough housing just before a window (or nose) gets broken. I can think of a couple of times in my childhood where we walked right up to the edge of “having fun” and then stepped over it, because once a boisterous good time gets going it’s hard to be the voice of reason who throws on the brakes.

Do you have a boisterous story of youthful (or not-so-youthful) indiscretion?

Share it, and stay safe out there!

Katie Dwyer. 


  1., looking at that derivation...girlsterous probably isn't a word, then.


    1. Hi Sally,

      I do feel a little resentful of the "boy" implications. I'm trying to figure out what a feminist/fully awesome definition of "gilsterous" would be. Perhaps the wild laughing after tackling a tricky rock climbing route? Or do we surrender to the girly equivalent of the stag parties and just call it the teasing and giggles two drinks in, right before the dancing starts...

      Thanks for writing!

    2. It could be the next boy band? Boys-Star-Us. Hey ... not bad. Not bad at all.

      *Boys-Star-Us RULE!!!*

  2. I was going to ask a similar question about boisterous being linked to the word 'boy' somehow. I think I associate boisterous with boys and rowdy with girls.


    1. Hi C,

      That's an interesting association--somehow both are male-ish in my mind (possibly because of the howdy-rowdy-somehow we're talking about cowboys all of a sudden?). I can't really think of a feminine synonym, although I sure know the situation when I see it.

      All the best!


  3. Enjoyed the post Katie, good word! It did in fact make me think of playing cards though..! In our family, when we play cards, it's ALWAYS boisterous. We play a game called "nerts". It's extremely fast and ends up very competitive... :)

    1. Hi Chlobo,

      I play that game with my sister, and it does bring out the rowdiness! In light of that, perhaps the card playing was a terrible analogy for polite good times.

      Keep on slamming those cards!


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