Could it Be, Just Possibly, All a Ruse?

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A few months ago I came across a reference to something Bill Gates did at a technology conference. He released a swarm of mosquitoes and let the audience believe for a few moments that they were malaria carriers. A commentator at the Yahoo Buzz site mentioned the incident and ended the entry with these words:

Fortunately for the terrified attendees, the mosquitoes were malaria-free. ‘Twas all a rouse. Bill Gates 1, Terrified Minions 0.

As I’d had never seen the word “rouse” used in this way, the expression kept niggling at my mind. As I searched for an explanation I found the Yahoo quotation repeated on numerous sites, but I also found the words “all a rouse” in other blogging contexts. Gradually I determined that “all a rouse” seems to mean “all a deception.”

Here are some examples:

It’s all a rouse to keep everyone guessing as to the actual era/plot.

Thereby implying that it is all a rouse by the racist far right to stir up trouble.

Now, while it does look an awful lot like legitimate crocodile, it’s all a rouse – the surface is grooved and pigmented plastic and silicon, rather than covered in genetically modified croc skin.

Turns out these “survivors” are merely clones destined to have their organs harvested and the island is all a rouse.

Is our girl swapping affections with both of these well to do besties or is it perhaps all a rouse to keep prying eyes like ours on our toes?

Todd thinks it’s all a rouse, but they convince him that she really is dead.

Mentally I was pronouncing “rouse” in this context as I would the verb rouse: (rouz) (rhymes with drowse).

According to the OED the word rouse has been used as a noun, but none of the noun definitions come anywhere near the meaning with which the word is being used in the expression “all a rouse.”

Some meanings of “rouse” as a noun:

A shake (of the feathers, etc.). Obs.
The signal in the military for arousing; the réveille.
A violent stir.
A full draught of liquor; a bumper.
A carousal or bout of drinking.

Slowly the idea began to dawn that this new use of “rouse” as a noun might be nothing more than a misspelling of the word ruse: [rūs, rūz]. I was wishing I could ask these bloggers how they pronounce the word when I came across these lyrics:

Her lovin’ was all a rouse.
And all I have left is a memory of her–
I got the Blues!

Evidently this “rouse” rhymes with “blues.”

That pretty well settles it for me. I believe that this mysterious new use of “rouse” is nothing more than a misspelling of ruse.

ruse [rūs, rūz] noun: A crafty stratagem; a subterfuge.

If the conclusion I have drawn is incorrect, I know that you readers will set me straight in a jiffy.

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12 thoughts on “Could it Be, Just Possibly, All a Ruse?”

  1. I am wondering why people are misusing rouse to mean ruse.

    What other spellings of common words are there that would cause them to think that rouse is pronounced in the same was as ruse?

    The only only one that comes to mind is the -use word ending for words such as hypotenuse.

  2. Of course, you’re right about rouse, and it was a cunning way in which you finally arrived at the truth!

  3. when i read the initial comment about bill gates by the blogger, i read that word as ‘ruse’ anyway. have i been misspellun it all these years?

  4. Thank you for a rusing good summery! . . . Uh, rousing good summary, that is.

    I imagine the existence of “rouse” in the spell checker, without adequate checking of context, led to the error.

    But, please confess – you saw the wording misuse right off, didn’t you? It was a clever hook for the piece, though.

  5. Thank you for clearing this issue. I’ve been reading about them too but just let it pass for the doubt I could be wrong.

    But this clarification really helps.

  6. Brad K.,
    No, I will not tell a lie. I was totally in the dark. I went around asking everyone I knew if they knew the expression “all a “rowze”! My son, on the other hand, saw it for what it was at once.

  7. You’re right, and it’s not the only word that’s mistaken for another so often that many people don’t know which is which.

    Google “loose.” It’s frequently a misspelling of “lose,” i.e. “loose weight.”

    (No thanks. I’d prefer that mine stay tight and in place.)

  8. Merriam-Webster:
    “Main Entry:
    Inflected Form(s):
    roused; rous·ing
    Middle English, to shake the feathers
    transitive verb
    1 archaic : to cause to break from cover
    2 a: to stir up : excite
    b: to arouse from or as if from sleep or repose : awaken intransitive verb”
    Wouldn’t it fit?

  9. I’m with you Maeve – a definite spelling mistake.
    Rouse and ruse are two completely different words with different meanings.

  10. Yes, Maeve, you were correct that the writer confused “rouse” with “ruse.” Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon situation. I am dismayed by how often I see misspellings, errors in context, omitted words, etc. in mainline publications — magazines, books, pamphlets, and such — that should be proofed and edited well enough to catch such errors. I attribute it to laziness, ignorance of proper English, a generation that has been raised to believe that standards are obsolete and censorious and anything is acceptable so long as it makes us feel good, and over-dependence on a spell-checker to catch mistakes. Still, I suppose we should be grateful; the boob who made the ‘rouse/ruse’ error could have added roust, roast, route, rout, roost, rube, robe, ruby, rare, and ribald to the mix and really left the blog a ruin/rune.

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