Putting the ‘rogue’ in ‘prorogue’

Protesters standing by The Cenotaph in Bristol, protesting the prorogation of Parliament.
Protester holding a sign saying "Liar Johnson put the 'ROGUE' in 'PRO-ROGUE' #StopTheCoup" at a protest by The Cenotaph in Bristol City Centre
Protester holding a sign at “Stop the Coup” protest next to The Cenotaph, Bristol City Centre.
Photo: Jack Fifield.

The word ‘prorogue’ has been enjoying its time in the spotlight this week, and many, not least angry protesters, have expertly deduced that the word ‘prorogue’ looks like the words ‘pro rogue’. This begs the question: are these words actually related?

To start my investigation, I turned to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

As an historical dictionary, the OED doesn’t prioritize modern meanings over historical meanings; this can be seen by the fact that the modern UK sense isn’t stated until last in the OED’s entry “b. intransitive. Of a legislative assembly, etc.: to discontinue sittings for a period of time or until the next session.”

As many angry demonstrators holding signs such as “Boris Johnson is a pro rogue” or “Liar Johnson put the ‘ROGUE’ in ‘PRO-ROGUE’” (pictured) over the last few weeks have pointed out, at first glance, the word ‘prorogue’ looks and sounds like a combination of the prefix “pro-” (before something) and the adjective ‘rogue’ (unpredictable, dishonest, etc.).

The “pro” in “prorogue” is not a shortening of “professional”, with the OED confirming that, much more simply, in this case, it is the prefix discussed above, in the sense of “Forward, onward, in a course or in time”; this leads us to “rogue”, surely this is just the word “rogue”?

Going back to Latin via the route of Anglo-Norman and Middle French, we get to rogāre, to ask, according the OED, and we are directed to “see rogation n.”, with multiple senses including the acts of begging and of making a formal request.

Turning to the origin of the word ‘rogue’, the OED tells us that the earliest recorded sense is “An idle vagrant, a vagabond; one of a group or class of such people. Now archaic or historical.”, but admits that the origin is unknown, suggesting that it may be related to “roger n.”, an obsolete word for a beggar pretending to be from Oxford or Cambridge, with the OED telling us that some have suggested that this was actually pronounced like the word “rogue” instead of the name “roger”, but that there is no supporting evidence for any of this, or that the words are even related, and that “an etymological connection with the family of classical Latin rogāre (see rogation n.) is unlikely.”, bringing us full circle.

So, it would seem that, whilst the OED is of the opinion that a connection between ‘prorogue’ and ‘rogue’ is unlikely, there are some similar senses for both words relating to the acts of begging or asking, meaning that there could be some connection along the line. For now, this case remains unsolved.