Rapscallion | University of Virginia Undergraduate Application Essay

Scrawled as haphazardly as it demands, the word braids from a continuous thread of twists and turns. There is a sense of urgency as the letters come to life in a flourish. The plummeting stroke of the “p” appears out of place, as if the weighty consonant is dripping down the page. It stirs trouble as it trespasses into the lines below before petering out with the double-humps of the cursive “n”. Rapscallion.

As an elaboration of “rascal,” the outlandish word “rapscallion” expresses the lackadaisical mischief that characterizes childhood. Though usually deployed pejoratively, it is a slangy, whimsical term I associate with youthful curiosity. It defines a scoundrel who craves tomfoolery and desultory havoc. The word sounds as preposterous as the miscreants it describes, like an unconventional form of onomatopoeia. It is derived from two disparate words that are mashed together willy-nilly. Its slapdash usage prompts readers to wonder: “just how legitimate is the word rapscallion?”

While many gems get tainted by overuse, rapscallion has remained an outré word. It stays just long enough to make a cameo appearance before it curtsies and skulks back to its origin in sixteenth century colloquialism. It transports me to the quaint,…

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