Posted by: Jack Henry | March 24, 2017

Editor’s Corner: Rank

Dear Editrix,

I was just wondering if there was a relationship between rank (as in rank and file) and rank (as in a nasty smell)?

Sniffer in San Diego

Dear Sniffer,

It sounds like you might’ve had a rough night with a smelly soldier! I hope that is not the case and this is just your inventive curiosity.

I checked out both Meriam-Webster and my favorite Online Etymology Dictionary for different definitions of rank. Neither of them defined rank as a stinky smell, though the latter of the two came pretty darn close. I know a visit to the Paris sewers brought the word rank to my lips!

Here are the different items I found:

rank (noun)

early 14c., "row, line series;" c. 1400, a row of an army, from Old French renc, ranc "row, line" (Modern French rang), from Frankish *hring or some other Germanic source (compare Old High German hring "circle, ring"), from Proto-Germanic *hringaz "circle, ring, something curved" (see ring (n.1)).

Meaning "a social division, class of persons" is from early 15c. Meaning "high station in society" is from early 15c. Meaning "a relative position" is from c. 1600.

rank (adjective)

Old English ranc "proud, overbearing, showy," from Proto-Germanic *rankaz (source also of Danish rank "right, upright," German rank "slender," Old Norse rakkr "straight, erect"), perhaps from PIE *reg- "to stretch, straighten" (see right (adj.)). In reference to plant growth, "vigorous, luxuriant, abundant, copious" it is recorded from c. 1300.

Sense evolved in Middle English to "large and coarse" (c. 1300), then, via notion of "excessive and unpleasant," to "corrupt, loathsome, foul" (mid-14c.), perhaps from influence of Middle French rance "rancid." In 17c. also "lewd, lustful."

Much used 16c. as a pejorative intensive (as in rank folly). This is possibly the source of the verb meaning "to reveal another’s guilt" (1929, underworld slang), and that of "to harass, abuse," 1934, African-American vernacular, though this also may be from the role of the activity in establishing social hierarchy (from rank (n.)).

rank (verb)

1570s, "arrange in lines;" 1590s, "put in order, classify; assign a rank to," from rank (n.). Related: Ranked; ranking.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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