Let’s rein in reign!
Have you noticed how often you see these two words confused?
Here’s a sentence from Dan Brown’s best-selling The Da Vinci Code: “Chartrand rushed forward, trying to reign in the camerlengo.”
From a sports-page headline: “Walsh might seize reigns as president.” That’s former 49ers coach Bill Walsh, rumored to become president of the 49ers.
From the National Catholic Reporter in a story about Deal Hudson, publisher of Crisis magazine: “While Hudson was taking over the reigns at Crisis, Cara Poppas consulted an attorney.”
In scholar John Merrill’s wonderful book, Existential Journalism, in which he describes the existential journalism professor: “He will insist on personalism, not impersonalism; he will encourage diversity in his students, not conformity; he will try to give free reign to creativity, not imitation.”
And in a column in the Columbia Missourian in which Merrill is condemning the “No child left behind” program, he writes: “What we need is an emphasis on ‘No child held back,’ or ‘Give free reigns to the gifted child.’”
I think we should not only rein in “reign,” but we should also rein in “rein.” It’s used so often and so needlessly. Besides, I wonder how many people really understand its roots. Once when a graduate student of mine used “reign” in place of “rein,” he asked me what in the world a rein was.
As a former farm boy whose father still had a team of horses, I think I can describe reins without looking the word up in the dictionary. I can still see those long strips of leather that dad held in his hands to get the horses moving or to get them to turn right or left (“gee” – right, and “haw” – left, he used to shout) and to get them to stop. If the horses were going too fast, he would pull on the reins that went right to the harness over their heads and to the bits in their mouths. He would tighten the reins. If he wanted them to trot, he would loosen the reins (give them free rein?). And if he wanted them to stop, he would pull hard and rein them in.
Granted, the word has also come to mean “a restraining influence, a curb or a check.” But again, it’s so overused, and it’s so often replaced incorrectly with “reigns.”
At least think twice before you use “rein” or “reins” again!