Sunday, September 30, 2012

Rein It In

Just a simple keystroke error?  Or a misuse of a word? It's difficult to tell.  This month's offender: reign/rein. (Although I am very happy I have yet to see "rain" for either of these words, so keep up the good work!) 

Let's review each just to make sure you've got a good control of the basics.  

Rein: the dictionary gives ten definitions for rein, including a few idioms.  What you should think of here is mostly related to either horses and other animals (straps) or control (reining in your grammar superpowers—oh no,  my secret identity of GrammarGurl has now been compromised!).  You can grab the reins of a runaway horse or you can grab the reins of power - either way, you'd better be prepared for a fight!

Reign: the dictionary gives seven definitions for reign, mostly relating to ruling, authority, or control.  Uh oh - here's the problem - control!!  It's in both definitions, and may be a reason one would confuse reign for rein.  

I like to remember that reign has its roots in Latin (finally, those years of high school Latin are paying off!) -  rēgnum:  realm, reign.  I always think of kings and queens, and their ruling of their subjects, when I use reign.  

But rein also has Latin roots: Vulgar Latin *retina,  noun derivative of Latin retinēre - to hold back.  But retina - think of retain - gives us more personal feeling of control as opposed to the ruling control of a king or queen.  We can rein in our feelings, rein in our impulses, and grab the reins of our destinies, but not many of us will have a reign such as Queen Elizabeth. 

Free images courtesy of


No comments:

Post a Comment