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Brandon Robshaw: English Usage #5

I mark a lot of assignments online for the Open University; and today, when marking a creative writing assignment, I complimented a student on the "rambunctious" style in which she had written a family memoir, which included lots of drinking, feuding, fighting and high jinks. But, after I had returned it, I suddenly thought, hang on, maybe I meant "rumbustious". Maybe there's no such word as "rambunctious". Or maybe there is and it means something completely different. A horror of having used the wrong word – and me a creative writing tutor! – seized me. So I looked them both up.

I discovered, to my relief, that "rambunctious" means "uncontrollably exuberant or boisterous". And "rumbustious" means… exactly the same. So that was all right. But what surprised me was that "rambunctious" is the form favoured by Americans while we Brits tend to say "rumbustious".

Rambunctious; rumbustious… Let's call the whole thing off.

Dr Brandon Robshaw lectures for the Open University in Philosophy, Creative Writing and Children’s Literature. He has written several children’s books including a philosophical YA novel, The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers. He and his family starred in BBC2’s Back in Time for Dinner. You can find his website here.

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