Before Mel Gibson’s rant, what was the word’s link to a religious mystery?

Mel Gibson sure seems to have a problem with vulgar tirades. Vulgar used to mean “of the common people” before it acquired the sense of “off-color.” And a tirade literally derives from the French tirare, “to pull continuously.” The actor’s ex-girlfriend is making tabloid headlines with claims that she has a recording of the troubled actor engaging ina racist, hate-filled harangue against her. This follows his infamous intoxicated rant and arrest in 2006.

To rant is “to speak or declaim extravagantly or violently; talk in a wild or vehement way; rave.” The origin of the word has appropriately wild roots.

The precise linguistic source is uncertain, but rant as a verb emerges around 1600, simultaneous with an outrageous religious sect in England called the Ranters.

The Ranters were one of many antinomian Christian groups that appeared in England following the Protestant Reformation. Simply put, antinomianism is the belief that Christians “are freed from the moral law by virtue of grace as set forth in the gospel.” Some sects accused by mainstream Christianity of possessing antinomian tendencies included the Quakers, the Puritans and others.

The Ranters apparently took the belief that humans were free from moral law to an extreme, rejecting the authority of the Bible and pretty much embracing an “anything goes” approach. Their opponents accused the Ranters of engaging in debauchery, including nudism and adultery.

What’s the link between Ranters and ranting? The German word rantzen, “to frolic, spring about,” seems like a bridge between the alleged actions of the Ranters and the excessive speech of a rant.

This is where mystery comes into play. The Ranters are mainly known through the writings of those who opposed them. Scholarship has recently suggested that the Ranters were actually a fabrication of their opponents in order to further their own political ends through hysteria. Who would create a hoax for political gain? The very thought is worthy of a rant. There is one other wonderful etymological relative of rant. The next time you encounter “a wild, romping young person,” please feel free to call them a rantipole.

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