from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A lively jumping quickstep for two couples.
  • n. Music for this dance, usually in rapid duple meter.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A quickstep dance for two people.
  • n. The music for this dance.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A gay, lively dance for one couple, -- said to have been borrowed from Provence in France.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A lively dance for one couple, characterized by a peculiar jumping step. It probably originated in Provence. It was very popular in England in the seventeenth century.
  • n. Music for such a dance, the rhythm being usually duple (occasionally sextuple) and quick.
  • n. Formerly, in the French army, a beat of drum while men condemned to be shelled were, previous to their punishment, paraded up and down the ranks.


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

French rigaudon, possibly from the name Rigaud.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

French rigaudon.


  • ] [Footnote 341: The rigadoon was a dance for two persons.

    The Tatler, Volume 1, 1899

  • It is as marvellous to see such conceited boors under the same roof with so courteous and amiable a damsel, as it would be to see one of their shaggy bears dance a rigadoon with a maiden like the daughter of our host.

    Anne of Geierstein

  • The argument from Steve Jobs, Greg Reyes and dozens of others that they didn't understand the "accounting implications" of backdating certainly does tax credulity -- then why engage in the backdating rigadoon?

    A Backdating Sentencing

  • Meanwhile, wherever Mas'r Andersen might be, and whether he were so much as alive or not, Miss Agatha was not the one that knew; and Flor adapted many a rigadoon to her conjectured feelings, now swaying and bending with sorrow and longing, head fallen, arms outstretched, now hands clasped on bosom, exultant in welcome and possession.

    The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 16, No. 96, October 1865

  • I know not -- sixty-live shows with an ill-grace in a rigadoon, but for a minuet: well, well, St. Vitus strengthen me, and I accept thy challenge.

    The Mirror of Taste, and Dramatic Censor Volume I, Number 1

  • And the Doctor looked as if he should like to rigadoon and sashy across as well as the young one he was talkin 'about.

    The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 05, No. 30, April, 1860

  • PHILIP DRUNK AND PHILIP SOBER: _ (Their lawnmowers purring with a rigadoon of grasshalms) _ Clever ever.


  • They fought like maddened cats, banging against the cabin walls, whirling in a crazy rigadoon to find an opening for their fists;

    Blow The Man Down A Romance Of The Coast - 1916

  • I recognized the man as Godfrey Cradlebow, the handsome fiddler's father, and the boy was none other than the imp whose eyes, scorching and defiant now, had first sent mocking glances back at me while their light-limbed owner kicked out a jaunty rigadoon from under the encircling folds of his sacerdotal vestments.

    Cape Cod Folks

  • Young Etienne holds her hand by chance, 'Tis the first rigadoon they dance; With parted lips, right thirstily Each rustic tracks them as they fly, And the damsel sly Feels every eye, And lighter moves for each adoring glance.

    Jasmin: Barber, Poet, Philanthropist


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  • Case proven, hernesheir. Very insightful.

    September 10, 2014

  • shellack

    September 10, 2014

  • I think hernesheir has it. Most of the punishments described in the various lexicons are some form of "running the gauntlet" (sometimes more inventively called the gantelope). Serial skelping describes the blows administered. It's an easy drift from "skelping" to "shelling." Since the practice was limited and long ago abandoned the uprooted word spread no seed.

    September 10, 2014

  • Metropolitan Magazine mentions dancing the Rigadoon at the Yardarm.

    September 10, 2014

  • skelp

    September 10, 2014

  • I don't think execution by firing squad will do since shelling is described as the punishment "severest next to death." It is specifically not execution.

    The problem with La Cale is that dunking someone from the yardarm is obviously a naval procedure whereas shelling is said to be a former custom of the French army. It is a puzzlement.

    September 10, 2014

  • Consider this definition from shell:

    A cartridge-case of paste board, containing a charge of powder and shot, to be exploded by center-fire or rim-fire percussion, now much used for breech-loading shot-guns instead of metal shells.

    If you can envisage that once upon time shells were not the giant artillery cases we think of today but more humble ammunition for shotguns, then presumably punishment by shelling translates to execution by firing squad.

    September 9, 2014

  • The truth is one of the first casualties of war. I suspect it could be storytelling to propagate a 'our army is tougher than your army' story to deter attacks.  From what I read, the rigadoon was 'the dance of life'

    September 9, 2014

  • I guess “severest next to death” makes a little progress. Could the drumming have been that bad? There must be more to it.

    I found a couple more military lexicons in the neighborhood alexz pointed me to and found two candidate punishments.

    La Cale – dunking from the yardarm. Akin to keelhauling. For wounding a comrade maliciously.

    Donner sur le morion – shut up in a guard house to receive a number of strokes. Replaced by running the gauntlet. For crimes that were not capital.

    I can see no obvious reason why either of these should have been translated “shelling.” My best guess is that since La Cale is close to écale, which is the shell of a nut, and since écaler is to shell a nut, “shelling” could have been someone’s clumsy translation of La Cale.

    La Cale does have some shipyard applications. It can name a hold or slipway or, with modifiers, types of docks. I don’t see how these suggest shells or shelling.

    September 9, 2014

  • This technical dictionary has shelling being a punishment almost as bad as death. page 310 

    see rigodon  these dictionaries seem to have copypasta'd an 1842 dictionary.

    September 9, 2014

  • The third definition supplied with rigadoon puzzles me: “n. Formerly, in the French army, a beat of drum while men condemned to be shelled were, previous to their punishment, paraded up and down the ranks.”. It is from the Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia, which was last published about 100 years ago and whose definitions I have often found to be mysterious. I cannot figure out what sort of military punishment is meant by “shelled.” I can think of two possibilities:

    1.) The condemned men are to be shelled by artillery. They could be compelled to take positions where enemy shells will fall or to be sentenced to serve as target practice for their own artillery. Each of these possibilities is barbaric and the second is expensive. Both are so bizarre that I think I would have heard of them.

    2.) “Shelled” could suggest the shedding of a shell and might mean that the condemned are to be reduced in rank or discharged from service. On the other hand, to be shelled could just as easily mean to be enclosed in a shell.

    I have searched and have not been able to find any support for either of these interpretations. Does any Wordnik know what ceremony of humiliation is described by this sentence?

    September 9, 2014

  • Saint Vitus could really dig a tune.
    He'd waltz out of bed and jig til noon.
    He'd dance all the day,
    Polka, tap and ballet
    And hop all the night a gay rigadoon.

    September 9, 2014