Rogue: Scoundrel, knave, scamp, mischievous person (noun; usually a man); aberrant, corrupt, uncontrollable, mischievous (adjective). Also a verb used in horticulture and agriculture: to weed out inferior or untypical (“rogue”) plants.
Rogue has been in the news because of the U.S. theatrical release, on July 31, of the fifth installment in the Mission Impossible series, subtitled Rogue Nation. Like its four predecessors, the film stars Tom Cruise.
“Rogue Nation follows IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his team as they battle the titular rogue nation, an organisation of assassins and criminals called The Syndicate.”—TV Tropes. The film brought in $56 million over the weekend in the U.S., making it the #1 box-office earner.
Rogue has been in continuous use in English since the 15th century, but its origins are mysterious. The OED says that “[b]oth chronology and the difference in meaning argue against a suggested connection with Middle French, French rogue haughty, arrogant (1567), variant of rogre (late 13th cent. in same sense in Old French; c1180 in Old French in sense ‘aggressive’).” Instead, there is “perhaps” a connection with roger, “an itinerant beggar pretending to be from Oxford or Cambridge.” No one seems to know where this roger originated, either: it may have been thieves’ cant, or it may be related to Latin rogare (“to ask”—compare interrogate), or it may have come from the male name Roger. It isn’t related to the obsolete verb to roger (to have sexual intercourse with).
Its murky origins haven’t kept rogue from becoming a popular and productive word. Shakespeare famously used it in Hamlet’s second soliloquy: “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!”—in which rogue is a synonym for “useless vagrant.” A rogue horse (late 18th century) is wayward or unmanageable; a rogue elephant (earliest citation: 1835) is an elephant that lives apart from the herd and exhibits savage or destructive tendencies. Rogue elephant has been used figuratively since 1920 to denote a person or agency whose activities are antisocial, undisciplined, and destructive.
In late October 2008, anonymous advisors to Republican presidential candidate John McCain told CNN that McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, was “going rogue.” A year later, after losing the election, Palin appropriated the phrase as the title of a memoir.
“I didn’t have time to waste embracing the status quo,” Palin writes. Hardcover edition now available from several used-book dealers for as little as $3.79.
To go rogue has been documented since 1932; the earliest citation refers to the British author John Galsworthy: “the gentleman gone rogue, and gone rogue in a gentlemanly angelic fashion.”
As for the rogue nation of the MI:5 subtitle, it’s a relatively recent combination, first appearing in 1919, at the end of World War I, to describe “a nation which acts in an unpredictable or belligerent manner towards other nations.” Rogue state is much newer: it first appeared in print in 1973 in reference to Syria, and signifies “a state perceived to be flouting international law and threatening the security of other nations.”
Other compounds include rogue soldier (1601), rogueland (1633), rogue lawyer (1823), rogue agent (1840), rogue cop (1951) and rogue wave (1963, in a Pennsylvania newspaper; it denotes “a wave of unpredictable size, speed, or direction; [now] spec. an exceptionally large wave in the open ocean that far exceeds those encountered in prevailing sea conditions”).
Lovable rogue merits an entry of its own in TV Tropes. It begins:
A person who breaks the law, for their own personal profit, but is nice enough and charming enough to allow the audience to root for them, especially if they don't kill or otherwise seriously harm anyone. It helps that none of their victims are anyone we know or that they've made sure the audience knew they were jerks, which makes it “okay” to steal from them.
In addition to the new MI:5 movie, rogue appears in the titles of many video games, including Rogue Trader, Rogue Squadron, Rogue Legacy, Rogue Galaxy, and Assassin’s Creed: Rogue.
The name of the Rogue River in southern Oregon is a translation of La Riviere aux Coquins, the name bestowed by French fur trappers “because they regarded the natives as rogues (coquins).”