Saturday, April 20, 2013

GrammatiCats: Reign and Rein

Just a short one today (tonight?  I'm so hideously far behind!)

I'm not the type to get all bent out of shape when someone comments on a news article and their post has a spelling error.  (For one thing, news article comments are the motel pools of the Internet: swim at your own risk, and whatever you do, don't get any in your mouth.)

However, a depressing number of actual news articles keep messing this up, so I figured it was worth sending the cats out to tackle it.

Because I say things like that now.

Because in my own mind, I'm like Professor X, and my X-Men have names like Adverberus and Modifire and the Predicator.  And I send them out to fight crime, and we all live together in a big secret mansion lair, and I'm never, ever lonely.

What were we talking about?

Right.  Reign and rein.

Pinkie Rating: 3

You probably know that to reign means to rule, and a reign is a period of rule.  

But did you know that this word (which comes to us from French, hence the weird silent G) shares a common root with all of these others?


The central idea with all of these comes from the Latin "rex," meaning "king," and its genitive form, "regis."  Though some of their meanings have changed over the years, every one of the above words was born from the core idea of "rules" and "ruling" - whether that's a person who rules, the place they rule over, an act done by or to said ruler, or similar.   

So anytime you use "reign," it should be in the context of rulership, of mastery or domination or some position of power.  This is where we get expressions like:
  • reign of (terror, fire, etc.)
  • reign over (something)
  • reign supreme

At the height of his power, Cattila the Hun reigned over three pillows and a comforter.

On the other hand, reins are simply what you use to control a horse (or camel, ox, goat, bantha, what-have-you.)  Like "reign," it has etymological relatives, but they are fewer and altogether less interesting, if you ask me.  (I mean, I could tell you that it's a distant cousin of "retain," but learning that isn't much of an "aha!" moment, is it?)  Nowadays, we use it mostly in a metaphorical sense, when we want to talk about controlling or moderating something.

 Muffy really needed to rein in her sugar addiction.

This word is commonly used in phrases like
  • rein in  (figuratively speaking, pulling back on the reins to slow the imaginary horse)
  • take the reins
  • seize the reins of power (so you can then reign, see!)

As an aside, typing "reins of" into Google strongly suggests either a set of MMO mount items, or a series of enormously pulpy fantasy novels.  Reins of the Crimson Deathcharger: the hotly-anticipated sequel to Reins of the Elfdragon Swordonthecover.

Oh, and we should probably say a quick word about rain.  I'm told that in Spain, it falls mainly upon the plain.

Many thanks to today's GrammatiCats!

1. Pete, courtesy of my superb sister
2. Our own very-perplexed Peaches

(Does your kitty want to be a GrammatiCat?  Sign up here!)


  1. Those are two words that I have gotten mixed up, but I think usually word corrects me.

  2. Hello, Tex! Hahaha, these cats are so cute. Thanks for the laugh!

    Happy A to Z-ing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

  3. More cute cats :) I have to catch up on the others! Thankfully these aren't two words I really mix up often.

    Glad to see you are still at it. Over the halfway point now :)