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Language Arts: Going Rogue

In addition to rhyming with the word "vogue," the term rogue just so happens to be all the rage.

Appearing everywhere - from books (former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin's autobiographical, best-selling title, Going Rogue:An American Life to Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner's initial work Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores The Hidden Side Of Everything (predating their current offering SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance) to newspaper headlines (the Tribune's November 30 front page offering "Rogue Taxis: Holiday Sting Aims To Put The Brakes On Unlicensed Cabdrivers") to websites (Rogue Radio Show, Rogue Marketer and Rogue Mentality, which, by the way, believes in playing hard, living the adventure and having a sense of humor) - the term '"rogue," now ubiquitous in its use, has itself gone rogue.

What remains puzzling, though, is whether the word is being used properly within an endemic array of multimedia contexts.

To make such a determination, we will first attempt to decipher the origins of this vexing and provocative word and the intent its inceptor may have had in mind.


According to Merriam Webster's Dictionary, rogue is defined as a vagrant or a tramp; a dishonest or worthless person: a scoundrel; a mischievous person: a scamp; a horse inclined to shirk or misbehave.

The misbehaving aspect associated with the word rogue got plenty of mileage through the years being teamed with "cowboy" - one who does not take well to authority, is an independent thinker, a risk-taker.

Essentially, a rogue cowboy is a horse-driving westerner who has even gone outside of the traditional cowboy mentality to be liberated, a real free spirit possibly bent on destruction.

In terms of freedom, in large expanses of the world where wild animals roam free, elephants, rhinoceros's and lions, among many, many other members of the animal species, have frequently been brandished with the rogue label.

Jumping on the bandwagon of the playful/dangerous repartee, Animal Planet entitled one of their ongoing series' Rogue Nature. Depicting varying forms of wildlife at or past their breaking point on a recently aired episode, lions inhabiting Kruger National Park were defined as rogue due to a change in normal behavior patterns whereby they were seeing humans as sources of food.

In October 2009, Merriam-Webster Dictionary's website Word, known for its monthly breakdown of a "trendy" word each month, attempted to work its magic on rogue. In doing so, they shared that it first came onto the English language scene in the mid-16th century, and it did so by appearing in print.

With its use, it carried such meanings as: vagrant, tramp, and/or beggar (depending upon the pack with which you traveled). In addition, rogue was frequently used to characterize suspicious folks when speaking with the authorities (something that supposedly happened all the time back in the day).

According to Word, "While the specific and stern constabulary associations of rogue [has] wandered off over time, the word [has] retained its negative connotation: a dishonest unprincipled person, a swindler, a worthless fellow or scoundrel."

Word goes on to say, "When applied to animals, 'Rogue' can be an adjective meaning vicious and destructive. When used as a short alternative for rogue elephant, it is defined as 'a vicious elephant that separates from the herd and roams alone.'"

Freedom has a great deal to do with those who are rogue. Unbound by conventional standards (Madonna), willing to go it alone (George Clooney), unafraid of others' opinions (not Tiger Woods) - all of these descriptors capture the essence of the rogue mentality.

Yet, often times, rogue behavior carries over to unnecessary risk-taking, speaking off the cuff or unscripted (Ted Turner), and, at times, attempting to get away with things just because one can (Bernie Madoff).

This, then, is why rogue people are not always trusted, their actions cannot always be predicted, and when known/found out they are not always filled with good intentions.

In Word's purview, the only incidence when rogue is even remotely positive is in the scientific sense: "An individual exhibiting a chance and usually inferior biological variation." Botany, specifically allows rogue to enjoy a more playful meaning: "a pleasantly mischievous person" (as opposed to an unpleasantly mischievous person).

With all the negative discourse surrounding the word rogue, why would someone or something (a website, for example) opt to align with such a potentially harmful term?

In the case of Sarah Palin and her Going Rogue magical mystery bus tour, as interpreted by CNN reporters Richard Kim and Betsy Reed, "Palin intended to twist the meaning of rogue - an untrustworthy and unprincipled person - into its very opposite. Palin wrote that when the McCain team pulled out of Michigan, she disagreed and broke rank by telling reporters about their differences of opinion."

Yet, as Kim and Reed further explained, despite her offhanded use the word, "Palin is no stranger to rogue behavior whether tarring her opponents in the Troopergate scandal or being the brunt of angry campaign colleagues' retaliations."

Apparently for some, the idea of going rogue - unabashedly voicing one's opinions and unrelentingly charting one's path in the world - holds great appeal.

Take for instance, the Rogue Marketer and Rogue Mentalist websites; they both play upon the notion that standing on the sidelines is for people lacking the courage to go rogue and exercise behavior that, while requiring risk, yields the possibility of generating greater success. From their vantage points, rogue behavior is attractive and intoxicating and is necessary to achieving more out of life than just being a "yes man" or "yes woman."

Yet, there are those naysayers (there always are) who feel rogue behavior is dangerous and goes too far outside of the realm of normal conventions. It is the capricious side of rogue, then, that keeps them at bay.

Any attempt to determine what constitutes rogue behavior and what falls within the realm of normal constraints fails to come to any satisfactory conclusion. For the answer inevitably is up to the audience member or individual receiver of the message.

"You betcha" we all would like to be incredibly expressive in our thoughts and views. Who among us wouldn't like to add a little whimsicality to our lives?

But the question is not about self-expression or about "spicing up" our lives. Rather, it is about finding the right balance of how much to share, how much to keep to oneself, when to reveal information, and when to hold off until the right moment.

Remember that old Kenny Rogers song, "The Gambler?"

You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table.
There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done.

There is a great deal of wisdom in that song, for it clarifies the right time to take action and the right time to walk away - things that rogue characters don't take kindly to having to figure out.

But rather than spending your time trying to be the next big rogue queen or rogue cowboy, you may want to first consider whether you are up to the challenge of being: "on" all the time, unwilling to back down, unable to stay away from controversy and unnerved by the idea of leaving any stone unturned.

If undeterred, then perhaps you truly are in rogue fit condition. By all means then, go forth and be as rogue as rogue can be.


Previously in Language Arts:
* Pushback.

* Locavore.


Comments welcome.


Posted on December 4, 2009

MUSIC - Britney's IUD.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - Climate Deniers' 4 Top Scare Tactics.
SPORTS - The McEnroes In Antarctica.

BOOKS - Foxconned.


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