Don’t “Reign” on My Parade!

February 16, 2009

Have you noticed (as I have) that many people don’t seem to know the difference between “reign” and “rein”? I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen the words “reign in” in print and online–for example,  “She tried to reign in her spending because of the recession.”

In a literal sense, rein refers to controlling horses and reign refers to the authority exercised by royalty. A person can “rein in” spending, eating, emotional expression, and so on. In this context, rein is used in a figurative sense to liken practicing self-control to restraining a team of horses.

By contrast, a king or queen reigns over or reigns within a country. Reign, like rein, can be a verb or a noun. We talk about the reign of Henry VIII, for example. The word regency has the same root, rex, the Latin word for king. The word rein comes from retinere, “to restrain.”

The next time I see the word “reign” used the wrong way, I will try to rein in my disgust. It won’t be easy!

2 Responses to “Don’t “Reign” on My Parade!”

  1. zooeyibz Says:

    Exactly the same thing has been irking me! I finally had to write down ‘commonly confused words’… Rein/Reign tops the list.

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