1540s, "arrange or stow (cargo) in a ship," from the noun rummage "act of arranging cargo in a ship" (1520s), a shortening of French arrumage "arrangement of cargo," from arrumer "to stow goods in the hold of a ship," from a- "to" + -rumer, which is probably from Germanic (compare Old Norse rum "compartment in a ship," Old High German rum "space," Old English rum; see room (n.)). Or else the whole word is from English room (n.) + -age.
The meaning "hunt through or search closely" (the hold of a ship)" is by 1610s; that of "disarrange, disorder, rout out by searching" (reversing the original sense) is from 1590s. Related: Rummaged; rummaging. The noun in the sense of "an act of rummaging, an overhauling search" is by 1753. A rummage sale (1803) originally was a sale at docks of unclaimed goods.
updated on October 20, 2021