Verb > Roil

Verb – Roil

We’re not sure where the word “roil” comes from, but we’ve been using it since about 1590.

To roil liquid things is to stir them up, making them muddy, dirty, or choppy.

And to roil situations is to stir them up, making them chaotic, confusing, and full of strong emotions.

Situations can also roil by themselves, meaning they become stirred up: chaotic, confusing, and full of strong emotions.

ROY ul
(the same as “royal”)

Part of speech:
Verb, both the transitive kind (“the headlines roiled the stock market”) and the intransitive kind (“the stock market roiled for days”).

Other forms:
The common ones are just “roiled” and “roiling.”

Sometimes we’ll use “roil” as a noun to mean “a stirred-up mass of anything, such as water” or “a state of chaos and confusion,” as in, “The breakup left her heart in a roil for months.”

And occasionally we use “roily” and “roiliness,” which both strike me as funny.

How to use it:
With the tiny, powerful word “roil,” you convey this entire idea: that a situation started out pretty calm, like a clean-looking pond, but then someone (or something) suddenly poked a stick into it, stirring up all the mud on the bottom, dirtying the whole pond, and sending all the water crashing and sloshing against itself in a wild mess.

That’s the image you call to mind when you say that something roils: “his stomach roiled,” “the forum roiled with outrage.”

Or, you say that something roils something else: “jealousy roiled their relationship,” “rumors and anger roiled the eighth grade,” “injustice and economic disparity roiled the city,” “his insane decisions roiled the nation.”

Often we flip those phrases around and talk about things roiled by other things: “a relationship roiled by jealousy,” “a middle school roiled by rumors,” etc.

Both “roiled” and “roiling” make handy adjectives. Talk about roiled markets, roiled lives, a roiling industry, a roiling White House, etc.

“But anger roiled in my belly, and after I boarded the bus back to the apartment that day I was seized by another idea.”
— Cristina Henríquez, The Book of Unknown Americans, 2014

“Technology is always roiling the music world. At the end of the 19th century, publishers worried that the phonograph would slash sales of sheet music, and it eventually did. But music flourished anyway, as the phonograph itself helped give birth to new genres, such as jazz.”
— Wade Roush, Scientific American, 1 March 2019