ROGUE, a word which came into use about the middle of the 16th century as a slang or " cant " term for a vagrant vagabond, answering to the modern " tramp," and was adopted into English legal phraseology together with " vagabond " in the Statute of Elizabeth 1572, "rogue and vagabond" and " incorrigible rogue " remaining as legal terms for certain classes of persons amenable to the law under the Vagrancy Acts (see VAGRANCY). The act of Elizabeth defined " rogues, vagabonds and sturdy beggars " as including " idle persons going about and using subtle craft and unlawful games and all persons whole and mighty in body, but having neither land nor master, nor able to give an account how they get their living and all common labourers using loitering and refusing to work for the wages commonly given " (Sir G. Nicholls' History of the English Poor Law, ed. 1898 by H. G. Willink, vol, i. 159). The word has now the general meaning of a knave or rascal, though also used (by meiosis) as a term of playful or tender banter and in various special applications (e.g. a " rogue " elephant, one who has been driven out by the herd and lives a solitary life, becoming very savage and destructive. Gardeners also apply the word to a plant which does not come true from seed, showing some variation from the type).
The derivation of the word has been much disputed. It has usually been referred to Fr. rogue, meaning proud, arrogant, which is variously derived from the Icelandic hroke, rook, long-winded talker, or Breton rok, proud, haughty; cf. Irish and Gaelic rucas, pride. The New English Dictionary, however, rejects this derivation, and considers possible a connexion with another early " cant " word " roger," a begging vagabond pretending to be a poor university scholar.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)