According to Oxford Dictionary, 'rustle' means to make a soft, muffled crackling sound like that caused by the movement of dry leaves or paper.

The same dictionary says that 'rustle up' means to produce something quickly when it is needed.

My question is, why is the meaning so different just by adding 'up' after 'rustle'?

  • I hope someone will provide a better answer, but I'll give a two-word hint to get you started: phrasal verbs.
    – J.R.
    Aug 30, 2015 at 11:50
  • 5
    In English, the smaller the word, the more superpowers it has. :)
    – TimR
    Aug 30, 2015 at 12:00
  • 1
    Although the below answers do give some suggestions, this is probably one of those infuriating times in the English language where 'because it does' is the correct answer
    – Jon Story
    Aug 31, 2015 at 21:48
  • Here is a site that gives some good etymological history of the phrase "rustle up": grammarphobia.com/blog/2013/05/rustle-up.html May 26, 2016 at 19:52

2 Answers 2


"Up" when yoked to a verb conveys the idea of "completion" or "completeness" although most speakers aren't consciously aware of this aspect of the resulting verb, and may think in terms of space and direction (ascent, rising) if asked to explain the verb.

We can size up a person or a situation. To assess the person from head to toe or to assess the situation in its entirety.

We can rustle up some grub. To put a few ingredients together hastily to produce a meal.

We can tie a package up. To fasten it securely, not incompletely so that it could work itself loose during shipping and handling.

She rudely told me to shut up. To close my mouth completely and to keep it closed (no more words from me).

He walked up to the girl. He walked not just towards her but all the way to where she was, so that they were face-to-face and within normal speaking distance.

  • This is a nice idea, but I think it might stir up a bit of controversy if we start up a list of all phrasal verbs based on up, and count them up to see what proportion have connotations of "completion". That's just 33% in this comment. Aug 30, 2015 at 19:41
  • I think of stir up as taking an action that results in something being set in motion. The "yield" of our action is the controversy, I suspect some would say that we're getting it going, so it's inceptive aspect, but I think of it as succeeding in getting it going, completive. If we manage to start the car up, we get the engine to turn over. Completive. If we count them up, we run through the entire list of items. Completive.
    – TimR
    Aug 31, 2015 at 1:58
  • Hold up! So even if that makes you pause in this line of thinking, you'll still say the first two words here are "completive" because they imply success in stalling it? I don't know if I can put up with that! :) Aug 31, 2015 at 11:52
  • "Hold up!" means "Come to a complete halt!", right? It doesn't mean merely "reduce your speed".
    – TimR
    Aug 31, 2015 at 12:11
  • Put up with is murkier. :)
    – TimR
    Aug 31, 2015 at 12:13

The relevant sense comes under OED's definition section II, headed ...

To be active, to make efforts; to acquire or gather something energetically

...which is first recorded in 1835 as Get up, rouse and rustle about, and get away from these scores. Interestingly, that's the same year the sense Of livestock: to search for food, to forage; to graze was first recorded. The meaning To round up and steal (cattle, horses, etc.) wasn't recorded until 1886.

The exact sense to hunt out; (freq. in later use) to put together (a dish or meal). Now usu. with up. is first recorded (somewhat "marginally", I feel) in 1844 as He nailed my thumb in his jaws, and rostled [sic] up a handful of dirt & throwed it in my eyes. But OED's next citation isn't until 1890...

I was out one day after antelope (I ‘rustled’ all my meat, except a ham now and then as a luxury).

Given that the surreptitiously steal cattle sense was already "established" by then, I'm tempted to see that as closer to the intended sense above. But I think it's a good example of a usage showing part of the transition rustle = make a quiet noise => [quietly] gather together => gather together [food].

Note that OED only says this sense usually involves up. So, for example, I'll rustle some breakfast isn't actually "wrong" - it's just that most people would usually include the preposition.

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