Definitions

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

  • adj. Neat and orderly: "A small, ruly beard balances his hair” ( Whitney Balliett).

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. Pitiable; miserable.
  • adv. Pitiably; miserably.
  • adj. neat and orderly

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Orderly; easily restrained; -- opposed to unruly.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Pitiable; miserable.
  • Pitiably; miserably.
  • Conforming to rule; not unruly; acting rightly; righteous.
  • Orderly; well-regulated.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adj. neat and tidy

Etymologies

Back-formation from unruly.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Middle English ruly, rewly, rewely, reweliche, from Old English hrēowlīċ ("grievous, pitiful, sad, wretched, cruel"), equivalent to rue +‎ -ly. (Wiktionary)
From Middle English rewly, reoly. (Wiktionary)
Back-formation from unruly, or perhaps a continuation of Middle English ruly, reuli ("subject to a religious rule, regular"), equivalent to rule +‎ -ly, rule +‎ -y; or perhaps from Old French rulé, reulé, rieulé ("ruled"), past participle of rieuler ("to rule"). More at rule. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • "Honestly, I'll take back all [alleged] racist remarks and never do it again, truly ruly, please believe me [flutters eyes beguilingly]."

    [tuesday laugh] today's comic lines

  • I've been talking to people here, they're pretty -- you know, they've been very ruly, and we're up above the crowd.

    CNN Transcript Dec 31, 2009

  • Do not vote -- individually, in droves, as a family, as a community, as a congregation, as a ruly mob, whatever feels most congenial.

    Ellis Weiner: A Gentle Suggestion to Traumatized Evangelicals, Brutalized Conservatives, and Disillusioned Republicans

  • But, as Vincent Canby of The New York Times observed at the belated premiere of I Am Curious (Yellow), “The crowds were large, mostly middle-aged and ruly.”

    The Swedes’ Swingingest Swinger

  • Are they going to be ruly, will it get out of hand?

    CNN Transcript Apr 9, 2008

  • Washington D.C., ruly aftermath, unruly aftermath, that is, of all things, at a homeland security press conference.

    CNN Transcript Jul 8, 2004

  • T ruly, the tide has turned, in the mere space of nine years, the government has brought changes that have completely confounded both friend and foe.

    June 2003 - Second Term

  • I acted with mitigated gall and made my way through the ruly crowd with strong givings.

    No Uncertain Terms

  • Still ... my hair is ... the unruliest ruly hair you'll ever come across.

    unclebob Diary Entry

  • As we discussed the intricacies of many policy positions, we were moved by the vision of the many millions in our country who are poor and destitute - the unemployed, the homeless, the landless, those who, despite our ruly heroic efforts over the last three years, still have no access to clean water, to health care, to decent classrooms, to ordinary food.

    ANC Daily News Briefing

Comments

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  • Aw, shucks. *blushing*

    OED has a new website? *trembles*

    December 9, 2010

  • I'm going to take this opportunity to plug reesetee's Prosie "How I Met My Wife", which I dearly love.

    December 9, 2010

  • Unable to face the OED's new website, I'm going to guess that a noun 'unrule' is attested first (cf. extant 'misrule').

    December 9, 2010

  • Wordnik's etymological definition states it is a back-formation of unruly. So what does ruly mean, and why is the "un" gloss presumed to have come first?

    December 9, 2010