Friday, January 26, 2007

Rein Rain's Reign

I was musing last night, while waiting for my dog Rosie to do her thing, about the nexus between sound and spelling. In particular, I was thinking of the many ways that a single sound may be rendered in print. The stimulus was a letter to the editor in my local newspaper that complained about the President expecting “free reign” in his Iraq plans.

Rosie was on a leash; I don’t give her free rein after dark, the correct way to spell the word in that context. That reminded me that the same sound shows up in rein, rain, reign, and rayne. The thought doesn’t really go anywhere--except that English has too many sound symbols for its own good--but it’s a chance for some play.

Rain came from the Old English word regn, which also meant a wet meteorological event. Rain is a familiar event in many parts of the world, so it plays a part in many idioms:
• to know enough to come in out of the rain
• raining cats and dogs
• come rain or come shine
• to take a rain check
• when it rains, it pours
• to rain on someone’s parade
• to save money for a rainy day

Rein came to us directly from the Old French rene, indirectly from the Latin retinere, to retain. Horses were once a common item, and that led to idioms that spoke of equine control or freedom:
• give someone the reins
• keep a tight rein on someone
• hold the reins
• free rein to do something
• giving rein to your emotions

Reign goes back to the Latin regnum, kingly government. The common guy and gal didn’t participate in royal rule, so there are only a couple of common idioms:
reign of terror
• to reign supreme

Rayne is a name, not an ordinary word, but it shows up in a few places. For instance,
Rayne, Louisiana, touts itself as the Frog Capital of the World. And a company that deals in potable water is named Rayne Water Conditioning. I don’t know if that was an attempt to be cute or simply the name of the owner. But I’m sure that the Rayne Drop Inn is a pun in progress.

At any rate, only a queen in a coronation procession could say, “Don’t reign on my parade;” only someone who had been given stock in the water conditioning company would have free Rayne; and only Diana Ross could sit through a storm and rain supreme.

SIDEBAR: listen to some sweet stylings from Rayne Storm

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