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Rurouni (るろうに), while being a word invented by Rurouni Kenshin author Nobuhiro Watsuki, has a meaning similar or identical to that of the word rōnin (浪人), which refers to wandering, masterless samurai. While normal samurai served as retainers for feudal lords, if the lord were to be killed or fall from favor, the samurai would then become rōnin and be forced from a life of steady servitude into one of aimless social or economic wandering.
Within the scope of the series, the term "rurouni" appears to refer to swordsmen who spend a period of time wandering in search of personal enlightenment or so as to serve ordinary people in need rather than a lord. As such, these swordsmen tend to live on little to no income and have to make do with secondhand belongings or lodgings.