Another go rogue

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In a November 14 comment on Mark Liberman's "Going rogue" posting, David Gustav Anderson says:

In many parts of the English speaking world (UK and Commonwealth), "going rogue" is a euphemism for heterosexual women engaging in anal intercourse.

(I was at first suspicious, since the comment appeared over a year after the original posting, and many such long-delayed comments are spam, but this one looks legit.)

[Added 11/18: As I say in a follow-up posting, DGA is legit, and so is the comment, in the sense that he did post the comment and did so earnestly. But it turns out that his sources were playing a prank on him.]

Such a euphemistic use of going rogue was news to me, but then there are lots of usages I haven't noticed. Anderson didn't give any cites, and I haven't been able to find any, so that for the moment I suspect that euphemistic uses are neither widespread nor frequent, but I'm open for evidence (beyond some individual readers saying that they're familiar with the use).

[Added 11/18: I'm now convinced that claims about this use are sheer invention.]

Anderson's comment went on:

I find it difficult to imagine that Ms Palin is unaware of this connotation in choosing it for the title of her book, given that she has never been above flirting with straight male admirers in any of her gestures.

I don't follow this at all. There are two problematic things here.

First, I don't get the connection between Palin's flirtatious behavior and the expectation that she should be aware of sexual euphemisms (including those not current in the U.S.).

Second, I don't accept the idea that an expression that can serve as a sexual euphemism on some occasions has a sexual connotation on all occasions — that is, that any sexually tinged use contaminates all uses. That's a preposterous idea; a great many euphemisms work because they use perfectly ordinary vocabulary. Context is all.

Though I didn't find the use Anderson reports, I did find one example of go rogue with a reference to anal intercourse. It's from a comment by "thefrontpage" on a November 5 posting by Wonkette, who passed on a story about a proposed Clinton-Bush debate:

They cancelled [the debate] after Clinton said he was going to "go rogue" on Bush, but Bush knows the real meaning of "going rogue" (unprotected anal sex), and he took offense at that, …

However, the whole comment is a humorous invention, so it's hard for me to take any part of it seriously.

And of course the idea that the "real meaning" of go rogue is 'engage in unprotected anal sex' is silly. The conventional meaning of the expression is something like 'deviate greatly from training or expected behavior; cease to follow orders; go off on one's own' — a meaning that developed from rogue 'that which lacks appropriate control; something which is irresponsible or undisciplined' (as OED2 puts it, along with citations from 1964 on), which in turn seems to have developed from rogue elephant 'elephant driven away, or living apart, fom the herd, and of a savage or destructive disposition' (attested in OED2 from 1859 on).


  1. Mark Liberman said,

    November 16, 2009 @ 3:46 pm

    No question, in my opinion, that the theory of "Gustav Anderson" is preposterous — even if his claim about slang is not fabricated, it's surely irrelevant. I suspect that a strong influence on the use of "go rogue" by McCain aides in the 2008 campaign was Richard Marcinko's 1992 autobiography Rogue Warrior, and its many sequels and spin-offs, e.g. Rogue Warrior — Detachment Bravo (2001):

    "I'm not gonna do any more talking. I'm just gonna go Rogue."
    "Go Rogue?"
    "Unless otherwise directed, I'm gonna set things up the way I want 'em set. I'm gonna move. I'm gonna attack."

    The earliest figurative uses that I've been able to find are in Science Fiction. Thus L. Sprague De Camp's Rogue Queen, 1951, which deals with "the community life of the planet Ormazd in which the males are the drones, the women the fighters and workers, while the Queens, specially fed and raised, battle for supremacy. Travelers from Yrth indoctrinate Iroedh, change her diet and bring about a revolution for a bisexual reign":

    "I can reassure you on one point, darling: If I should ever plan to go rogue, I won't confide in anybody who might spoil my plan."

    There's also Anne McCaffrey's 1961 "The Ship Who Sang":

    "You told them I wouldn't go rogue, didn't you?" Helva said.
    "The moment passed you even as it passed after Parsaea, and before that, after Glen Arhur, and Betelgeuse."
    "We're conditioned to go on, aren't we? We can't go rogue. You were testing."
    "Had to. Orders. Not even Psych knows why a rogue occurs."

  2. Peter Harvey, linguist said,

    November 16, 2009 @ 3:59 pm

    Come again / Un hotel poco 'corriente'…

    The other day I did a translation for a Spanish hotel chain. It was publicity material and had the slogan: ‘Queremos que vengas. Queremos que vuelvas.’ I translated this as: ‘We want you to come. We want you to come back’ thinking that the repe…

  3. Ray Girvan said,

    November 16, 2009 @ 4:38 pm

    A quick Google finds the majority of references to this factoid (and there aren't many) are forum posts of the "I just just read that …" variety propagating the Wonkette story. A year ago – Oct 28th – the Evening Standard's Buzzword section, which reports in-expressions, covered "go rogue" with no sign of any such meaning.

    Definition: to " go rogue " is to become destructive and unpredictable, to operate outside conventional norms. Formerly the territory of missiles and 18th-century scoundrels, the word has now been hijacked by an in-fighting Republican Party.

    Example: "By ignoring her advisers and ignoring party tactics, Sarah Palin has gone rogue." Etymology: 16th-century slang.

    Short for roger or begging vagabond.


  4. Faldone said,

    November 16, 2009 @ 4:45 pm

    Urban Dictionary doesn't have any sexual definitions but it does have this otherwise quite interesting one:

    pretending to be something you're not, lying or acting in order to deceive others.

    In the interest of full disclosure it gets a split vote. 18 thumbs up and 18 thumbs down.

  5. hanmeng said,

    November 16, 2009 @ 4:59 pm

    What about Geoffrey Household's Rogue Male?

    [(amz) Just to remind you, this is not about rogue X or plain go rogue, but about a very specific understanding of the latter. I was cautious about the anal-intercourse understandings of the latter, but it seems increasingly likely that these are factitious. Rogue Male is no more relevant to things than any of the other rogue X combinations, which (so far as I know) have nothing whatsoever to do with anal intercourse.]

  6. naddy said,

    November 16, 2009 @ 5:02 pm

    I did a quick Google search for go/goes/going/went rogue over and, two large repositories of written pornography, and I didn't find any instances of the expression being used as any kind of sexual slang.

  7. J. W. Brewer said,

    November 16, 2009 @ 5:50 pm

    Here's a U.K. newspaper story prior to the 2008 election passing on anonymous gossip that Gov. Palin was perceived by elements in the McCain campaign as "going rogue." The Independent seemed to assume its British readers would understand the phrase; I'm not competent to say whether a double entendre could have been intended.

  8. TC said,

    November 16, 2009 @ 5:56 pm

    Faldone: you just didn't search the right terms.

    Most of the references are recent, which seems to indicate inspiration from the Palin book for the current popularity. There is one citation (#2) that is nearly two years old, and has a sexual connotation:

    "A male that allows a transexual man fuck him hard in the ass, yet still claims to be straight. "

  9. uberVU - social comments said,

    November 16, 2009 @ 6:02 pm

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by interests: Language Log: Another go rogue

  10. Leonardo Boiko said,

    November 16, 2009 @ 7:09 pm

    > First, I don't get the connection between Palin's flirtatious behavior and the expectation that she should be aware of sexual euphemisms (including those not current in the U.S.).

    I might be pointing the obvious, but it’s just plain old sexism. I believe his rationale is: Palin flirts; therefore she’s a _filthy whore_; therefore she must know all the dirty words and tricks of the trade.

    Remember, in mainstream, a sexually active man is considered healthy, admirable, and desirable; while active women should be ashamed of themselves.

  11. Molly said,

    November 16, 2009 @ 8:33 pm

    Anderson's comment seems like a schoolyard sort of assumption that if any sexual meaning at all exists for a word or phrase, that meaning is the "real" or "secret" meaning of the word and all other meanings are necessarily colored by it.

  12. Nat said,

    November 16, 2009 @ 9:02 pm

    > First, I don't get the connection between Palin's flirtatious behavior and the expectation that she should be aware of sexual euphemisms (including those not current in the U.S.).

    I think the charitable reading is that there isn't any particular connection. Rather Anderson is assuming that the populace at large is aware of this usage. Palin's flirtatious behavior is supposed to be evidence that she is willing to exploit this usage, i.e. her title is just one more example of her flirting. Granted, this argument sounds like wishful thinking to me.

    By the way, what exactly is the point of citing urbandictionary? I mean, it can be useful if you haven't heard of some term before and there is a large amount of agreement between different entries. But a large percentage of the entries are ad hominem attacks or imaginative exercises. I like to joke that according to urbandictionary every possible permutation of words is a sexual euphemism.

  13. David Green said,

    November 16, 2009 @ 10:23 pm

    Seems to me that most/all (?) of the specialized meanings derive naturally from the general meaning "deviating, renegade" in a particular context. Out of that context (as here), it would be hard to zero in on a specialized meaning. "Going rogue" could just as well mean resigning as governor.

  14. marie-lucie said,

    November 16, 2009 @ 10:50 pm

    I think that if Palin was aware of the euphemistic meaning (which was new to me as it seems to be for the other commenters thus far), it would not be a good idea for her to use the phrase as the title of a work which is meant to boost or at least keep up her popularity: the fundamentalist, conservative voters who are her most likely readers would not (if aware of the meaning) "be amused".

  15. Kapitano said,

    November 16, 2009 @ 11:50 pm

    Did the teabaggers understand the sexual associations of the term? Even though everyone else did?

    Did the National Organisation for Marriage understand that their 2M4M project had a meaning in classified sex ad?

    No. Palin and people like her aren't the sharpest tools in the box. So to speak.

  16. Kapitano said,

    November 16, 2009 @ 11:56 pm

    …by which I don't mean "Going Rogue" is a sexual term. AFAIK it isn't. Just that if it were, Palin probably wouldn't know about it, and even if she did probably wouldn't use it as a book title.

  17. The other Mark P said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 5:02 am

    In many parts of the English speaking world (UK and Commonwealth), "going rogue" is a euphemism for heterosexual women engaging in anal intercourse.

    Not in this part of the Commonwealth (New Zealand) as far as I know.

    Certainly no sniggers from the press about it, which we get when Americans use words we consider taboo but they do not (fanny, is a favourite).

  18. Ginger Yellow said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 5:55 am

    Not a usage I've ever heard in London. Then again, I can't say the subject comes up all that often.

  19. Jake Townhead said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 6:00 am

    'spam' [line 7]? Surely 'bespoke mischief'?

    As a UK national I agree with Ginger Yellow and the other Mark P.

  20. Levi Montgomery said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 7:16 am

    Here's an interesting item:

    Altavista search results for [ "going rogue" +anal ] = 22,300 hits.

    Limit the findings to items that are over one month old: 1,910

    More than two months old: 256

  21. Adrian Mander said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 7:18 am

    This sounds like post hoc, partisan bullshit to me, and I am one of the many libs who snickered about the teabaggers.

  22. Zwicky Arnold said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 7:53 am

    To Levi Montgomery: you have to actually look at the pages the search pulls up. The recent ones on Google are mostly products of the comment on Wonkette's blog or my Language Log posting, and as far as I can tell, the rest involve mere juxtapositions of the two expressions.

    One unfortunate result of my posting is that now people are reporting that "going rogue" is Britslang for anal intercourse. This looks like one of those cases where questioning some claim, or debunking it, merely spreads the idea.

  23. Peter Taylor said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 8:00 am

    Nat wrote:

    By the way, what exactly is the point of citing urbandictionary? … I like to joke that according to urbandictionary every possible permutation of words is a sexual euphemism.

    You've answered your own question: it's a useful negative test. If even urbandictionary doesn't report a sexual connotation then you can be pretty sure that it doesn't exist. In this case it does report one, which doesn't convey much information as to how genuine and widespread it is; however, mentioning the entry here does save other people the effort of checking.

  24. Cath the Canberra Cook said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 8:00 am

    Pretty sure this is a wonkette invention, and intentionally spread by people who know the claim is bogus. It's quite plausible, as with NOM & teabagging cases, which helps bring the funny.

    See also: santorum, saddlebacking.

  25. dpv said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 8:01 am

    This latest "going rogue" business strikes me as an attempt to replicate Dan Savage's widely successful introduction of the new definition for "santorum", now leading to the first two google hits (ahead of actual references to former US Senator Rick Santorum).

  26. Zwicky Arnold said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 8:23 am

    Cath the Canberra Cook: "Pretty sure this is a wonkette invention …"

    Not from Wonkette herself, but from a commenter on her blog.

  27. Acilius said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 9:19 am

    @Levi Montgomery: The internet being what it is, it's hardly surprising when anything at all "+ anal" brings up tens of thousands of hits.

  28. Trimegistus said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 9:39 am

    This is typical modern liberal argument: potty talk and personal attacks. Someone made up this definition as a way to attack Palin. Good job promoting the meme, guys!

  29. Philly Dame › Tuesday 11/17: Links to Ponder said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 10:01 am

    […] Borrowed: Language Log cites a rarely used, backdoor meaning of "going […]

  30. Levi Montgomery said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 11:11 am

    My point was exactly that the volume of hits was essentially nil until this current discussion. Had there been any meaningful usage as slang for ANYTHING, surely the curve would not be so steep in the last month. I didn't bother to check any more finely than by months, as it would involve actual typing, instead of just mousing. Me = lazy.

  31. Spell Me Jeff said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 12:53 pm

    Even if "going rogue" does not have said sexual connotation, it should! (And LL may make it so, given that Google searches on the topic already put LL at the top of the results.)

    Not only does it sound right, it also looks right. The orthographic similarity between "rogue" and "rough" is really wonderful in this context.

  32. Zwicky Arnold said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 12:56 pm

    General note: several people seem to be conflating Daniel Gustav Anderson (in a Language Log comment) and "thefrontpage" (in a Wonkette comment). The former was bamboozled (see my follow-up comment here), the latter seems to have just been making things up.

    More specifically: Ray Girvan cites the treatment in Evening Standard's Buzzword section, which gives an etymology tracing rogue back to 16th-century slang. That's the ultimate etymology (in English), but what's important for go rogue is not the 16th-century 'vagabond' sense, but the immediate predecessors of the modern sense, which I sketched in my posting above (and which Mark Liberman discussed). If you look at the OED entry for rogue, you'll see quite a complex history (including a 17th-century interlude in which the word was used affectionately by some writers).

  33. mollymooly said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 3:53 pm

    The OUP blog posting for its "word of the year" has attracted c.50 times the average number of comments for OUP blogposts, mainly relating to the word "teabagging".

    [Note: "teabagging" is not the word of the year; "unfriend" is.]

  34. Joe said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 6:32 pm

    I ran across the term "meat sweats" months ago after catching a conversation about personal experiences from this "condition". Urban Dictionary now has a definition, but further googling shows that this term didn't exist prior to 2001 and somehow evolved into a "well-known malady". I personally think it's also an invention that evolved in the same way "going rogue" has.

    Perhaps there needs to be a term for such a phenomenon. I personally like "meat sweats" but then an additional definition for "going rogue" could describe this phenomenon.

  35. Graeme said,

    November 18, 2009 @ 12:33 am

    I've very occasionally heard 'go rogue' in Australia in a femo-buggered context. That may reflect on my sheltered, or innerlectual existence. Or on my compatriettes' proclivities.

    To be honest, I landed in CA this morn and saw the book reviewed on page 1 of the Entertainment (!) section. And through jet laggard eyes read the title as 'Going Rouge'.

  36. Ken Brown said,

    November 18, 2009 @ 2:39 am

    The comment from "Anderson" above is surely somewhere between fantasy and spam – or at best a fixation on a minority use of the word which more-or-less no-one else would ever have heard of if "Anderson" hadn't told us. The sort of nonsense that makes Urban Dictionary unusable other than as a random sample of the obsessions of American High School students, a sort of textual 4chan. Or maybe a kind of hegemonic spam-as political-speech, like the absurd suggestion in many comments on the WOTY webpage linked to from yesterdays LL post that "teabagger" used to describe anti-Obama protestors is a deliberate obscenity. If the word – either teabag or rogue – ever really had that obscene connotation the vast majority of people who used it will have first learned about from these very teabaggers complaining about it. Which the sudden increase in the posts associating "rogue" with "anal" seems to confirm.

    I'm sure that most people who use "rogue" have no idea that anyone uses it about buggery. After all isn't a very rare word in British English at all (dunno about US), though maybe slightly old-fashioned. Its not really derogatory any more either. I suspect it is largely used of men rather than women.

    The main connotations are surely "rogue elephant" and (as someone said above) the 1939 thriller "Rogue Male" by Geoffrey Household, about a big game hunter trying to escape from Nazis after a bungled attempt to assassinate Hitler. Its decades since I looked at the book but IIRC it explicitly mentions the legend that older male elephants "go rogue" when their herd no longer needs them, and the protagonist conciously imitates their behaviour, acting in an unpredictable and violent manner. Not a whiff of anus about it.

  37. Ginger Yellow said,

    November 18, 2009 @ 5:28 am

    The main connotations are surely "rogue elephant" and (as someone said above) the 1939 thriller "Rogue Male" by Geoffrey Household, about a big game hunter trying to escape from Nazis after a bungled attempt to assassinate Hitler.

    In the UK, for people of roughly my age, the main connotation is probably the old 2000AD comic Rogue Trooper.

  38. Ken Brown said,

    November 18, 2009 @ 12:57 pm

    Ginger Yellow said: "In the UK, for people of roughly my age, the main connotation is probably the old 2000AD comic Rogue Trooper"

    You are completely right of course. And there is also the X-men character Rogue. Even more famous if not quite as thrill-powered.

    And loads of other people had already said what I said about the spurious buggery usage in fewer and politer words. Perhaps I ought not to post in the early hours of the morning when I can't get to sleep for feeling ill.

    Though I'd be almost willing to bet that it was "Rogue Male" that popularised the idea of a rogue as one who breaks free from the herd and goes on the rampage. The earlier range of meaning covered petty criminals, beggars, or men with too much of a wandering eye. From Arthur Daley to Rambo.

  39. Simon Cauchi said,

    November 18, 2009 @ 6:15 pm

    I'd call Sarah Palin a loose cannon, myself.

  40. Jim said,

    November 18, 2009 @ 7:47 pm

    Per dpv's comment about Dan Savage and "santorum", Savage also kidnapped a variation of this purported meaning of "going rogue", under the term "saddlebacking". Refers specifically to Christian teens preserving their virginity, but seems extensible enough.

    Hmm, is there a term like snowclone and crash blossom for kidnapping a proper noun like this in an effort to destroy its power/value?

  41. Acilius said,

    November 19, 2009 @ 1:05 pm

    @Jim: "is there a term like snowclone and crash blossom for kidnapping a proper noun like this in an effort to destroy its power/value?" Gosh, there should be.

  42. said,

    November 20, 2009 @ 11:13 am

    I think saddlebacking was the inverse of santorum, so a different term would be needed. Santorum was a Google bomb designed to associate the anti-gay politician with the grossest, gayest thing his critics could come up with.

    Saddlebacking is a neologism with a negative/critical connotation. I'd compare it more to Savage's related, non-pejorative neologism, "pegging."

    The "going rogue" meme seems more like a Wonkette spoof on the unwitting "tea bagger" adoption.

    I trust all future employers or my kids' school admissions officers who come across this post in my permanent Google Search record will recognize my sincere desire to contribute to an accurate history of the development of the language.

  43. Carol Shepherd said,

    November 20, 2009 @ 3:14 pm

    Not that it's the most authoritative source, but the Urban Dictionary has several off-color entries for "going rogue," including the above-mentioned ones for unprotected sex, gay sex, and going without underwear.

    I personally have heard "going rogue" as an off-color slang term, but the usual meaning around here is "a straight man who has gay sex."

  44. mjrc said,

    November 22, 2009 @ 6:09 pm

    i knew it was too good to be true.

  45. Bob said,

    November 29, 2009 @ 4:46 pm

    See: , definition 2, which has been there since Jan 2008. Apparently it's a male hetero thing, not a female one.

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