roust·​about | \ ˈrau̇-stə-ˌbau̇t How to pronounce roustabout (audio) \

Definition of roustabout

2 : an unskilled or semiskilled laborer especially in an oil field or refinery
3 : a circus worker who erects and dismantles tents, cares for the grounds, and handles animals and equipment
4 : a person with no permanent home or regular occupation also : one who stirs up trouble

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Synonyms for roustabout


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Circus roustabouts are most commonly associated with circus animals, of course, but they also have a connection with game birds, at least in terms of etymology. "Roustabout" comes from "roust," which is an alteration of "rouse," a verb from Middle English that originally meant "to shake the feathers" (as in the way a bird might ruffle its feathers or shake its plumage when it is settling down or grooming itself). "Rouse," which today is a synonym of "awaken," also formerly meant "to cause to break from cover," a sense that may have influenced the modern meaning of "roust": "to drive (as from bed) roughly or unceremoniously."

Examples of roustabout in a Sentence

sought work as a roustabout on the city's seedy waterfront
Recent Examples on the Web Cox would work his way up from a roustabout and roughneck to eventually leading an oil and gas company as well as other notable businesses. Dallas News, 7 Nov. 2020 The shale patch was the Wild West reborn, featuring poker games with $1000 buy-ins, boisterous strip clubs packed with roustabouts and brawling in the muddy streets illuminated by columns of flaring gas. Shawn Tully, Fortune, 30 Apr. 2020 The Showmen's League Of America commemorates the 1918 Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus train disaster which killed 86 circus performers and roustabouts and injured 127, at Showman's Rest in Wood Lawn Cemetery in Forest Park, Ill., on Thursday, May 5, 2018. Dawn Mitchell, Indianapolis Star, 20 Feb. 2020 Bradley has enough swagger as the Elvis-wannabe, Feallock ably switches between the sweet and charming tomboy who finally wears a dress to attract Chad, to cross-dressing as another roustabout named Ed in order to befriend Chad. Elizabeth Marie Himchak, Pomerado News, 7 Aug. 2019 The Bowery reference made the area seem rather seedy and sordid, conjuring up images of barroom brawls, prostitution, roustabouts and gambling houses. Dawn Mitchell, Indianapolis Star, 5 Dec. 2019 Her Big Maybelle-Etta James roustabouts find this classic form. Jon Caramanica, New York Times, 23 Jan. 2020 Still, travelers keep coming — motorcyclists, desert roustabouts, lost families. Los Angeles Times, 5 Aug. 2019 Linda Leto Head, Lone Star College senior associate vice chancellor, external and employer relations, said they are accredited by the International Association of Drilling Contractors for its oil and gas drilling floorhand-roustabout program. Valerie Sweeten, Houston Chronicle, 8 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'roustabout.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of roustabout

1860, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

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The first known use of roustabout was in 1860

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Cite this Entry

“Roustabout.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Jul. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of roustabout

chiefly US : a worker in an oil field, at a circus, etc., whose job requires strength but little skill


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