Rifle Through: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
May 3, 2024

"Rifle through" is a phrase used to describe quickly and somewhat haphazardly searching through something, especially a collection of items. It often conveys a sense of urgency or a lack of care for how the items are handled during the search. The phrase is commonly used when looking for something specific within a pile, a drawer, a bag, or among various other items, usually resulting in a disorganized or messy state.

In short:

  • It means to search quickly and roughly through a group of items.
  • It is often associated with creating a bit of disorder or mess in the process.

What Does "Rifle Through" Mean?

"Rifle through" is a verb phrase that means to search through something quickly and without much care for the order or arrangement of the items involved. It implies a sense of urgency or eagerness to find something, often leading to a somewhat chaotic or untidy state of the things being searched. The phrase can be used in various contexts, from someone looking for a specific document in a stack of papers to searching for an item in a cluttered drawer.

More about the phrase's meaning:

  • It usually suggests a hurried or impatient manner of searching.
  • The phrase does not necessarily imply finding the item; it's more about the act of searching.
  • It can be used both in literal and figurative contexts.
  • "Rifling through" can sometimes imply a lack of respect for the privacy or organization of the items being searched.
  • It's commonly used in everyday English, particularly in spoken language.

Where Does "Rifle Through" Come From?

The phrase "rifle through" derives from the verb "rifle," which in this context means to plunder or search thoroughly. This usage of "rifle" is distinct from the noun referring to a type of firearm. The verb "rifle," in the sense of searching or plundering, has been used since the early 14th century, originating from the Old French word "rifler," which meant to scratch, scrape, or plunder.

10 Examples of "Rifle Through" in Sentences

To help you better understand this phrase, here are some examples:

  • He rifled through the papers on his desk to find his passport.
  • She loved to rifle through the hand-me-downs from her older cousins.
  • The guard prevented him from rifling through the evidence locker.
  • I heard him rifling through the kitchen drawers in the middle of the night.
  • He rifled through the papers on the surface of his desk, looking for the missing report.
  • She had to whisk away her diary before her sister could rifle through it and discover her secrets.
  • She rifled through the clothes in the wardrobe, trying to find something to wear.
  • The burglar rifled through the drawers, looking for valuables.
  • They rifled through dozens of boxes during the move to find the kitchen utensils.
  • He always carried around a backpack full of unread books. He just liked to rifle through them and pretend he was smart.

Examples of "Rifle Through" in Pop Culture

This phrase is also seen in various forms of pop culture, especially in scenes depicting hurried searches or investigations.

Let's look at some examples:

  • In an article titled “Rifle vs. Riffle” by Maeve Maddox, she discusses how the phrase “rifle through” is often seen in books. She provides an example where the authors say, “He rifled through the papers in the file.
  • In an article titled “XTC Albums Ranked from Worst to Best – The Ultimate Guide” by Adam Smith, he mentions that "XTC is turning 40 this year, so what better time to rifle through their extensive back catalog and arrange it in order of greatness..."

Synonyms: Other/Different Ways to Say "Rifle Through"

Here are some alternative phrases that express the same idea:

  • Search through
  • Dig through
  • Rummage through
  • Scour
  • Root through
  • Go through
  • Sift through
  • Scramble through
  • Sort through
  • Look through

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Rifle Through":

  • What does "rifle through" mean?

"Rifle through" means to search through something quickly and roughly, often creating a bit of a mess.

  • Is "rifle through" a negative expression?

It can have negative connotations, especially if it implies disrespect for the items or lack of permission to search through them.

  • Can "rifle through" be used in a formal context?

It's more common in informal speech. In formal contexts, phrases like "search through" might be more suitable.

  • Does "rifle through" always imply finding something?

No, the focus is on the act of searching rather than the success of finding.

  • Is "rifle through" an old-fashioned term?

No, it's still commonly used in modern English, especially in spoken language.

  • What is the origin of "rifle through"?

The phrase comes from the verb "rifle," which means to plunder or search thoroughly, originating from Old French.

  • Can "rifle through" be used figuratively?

Yes, it can be used figuratively to describe a thorough or hasty examination of non-physical things, like ideas.

  • Is "rifle through" related to the firearm called a rifle?

No, despite the similarity in spelling, "rifle through" is unrelated to the firearm.

  • How do I use "rifle through" in a sentence?

You can use it to describe someone searching quickly and messily through things, like: "She rifled through her bag to find her phone."

  • Can "rifle through" be replaced with "rummage"?

Yes, "rummage" is a close synonym and can often be used interchangeably with "rifle through."

Final Thoughts About "Rifle Through"

The phrase "rifle through" is a vivid and expressive way to describe a hurried and messy search through a group of items. It's widely used in everyday language to convey the urgency and intensity of the search, often with a hint of disorganization or desperation. The phrase is a part of spoken and written English, finding its place in various contexts, from literature to everyday conversations.

To recap:

  • It is commonly used to describe a hasty and disorganized search.
  • While it can carry a slightly negative connotation, it's a neutral term in many contexts.
  • The phrase originates in the Old French word "rifler," meaning to scratch, scrape, or plunder.
  • It's a versatile phrase, applicable in both literal and figurative contexts.

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