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What's a "rabble" without the "rouser"?

Nov 23, 2015

We all admit to being a rabble-rouser once in a while, but no one wants to be a part of the rabble.

It’s even built into the language.

After all, how often do you see the word rabble without the word rouser attached to it?

“Not very often at all,” says University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan.

Much like some people, there are words that just don’t like to hang out on their lonesome.

“Linguists would talk about this as collocates, as words that co-occur,” says Curzan. “And rabble and rouser, or rabble and rousing, are pretty strong collocates. They appear together a lot.”

There are plenty of other words with strong dependencies.

“One of the ones that has a strong pattern is frizzy,” says Curzan.

“Right away, it’s hair,” says Michigan Radio’s Rina Miller.

But many others aren’t so obvious.

Take the word cease, for example. Can you guess what it has a strong co-occurrence with? Is it ceasefire, or cease-and-desist?

While those both had strong showings, when Curzan searched an online database, they weren’t the strongest collocate.

“The most frequent word that shows up with cease is exist,” says Curzan, referring to the phrase cease to exist.

This just goes to show that the most common usage of a word isn’t always the most intuitive usage. Take the word banana, for instance. Is it banana peel, or banana split?

“Right now, for the last 20 years, the most common phrase is Banana Republic,” says Curzan.

- Sean McHenry, Michigan Radio Newsroom