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Su Lum: Slumming

Su Lum
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

An error that I see over and over in both local newspapers, and elsewhere, is the misuse of the rain word. Most people know that the word for the liquid stuff that falls from the clouds is r-a-i-n, but they often seriously bog down on the difference between r-e-i-n and r-e-i-g-n. This is probably because we have no recent experience with monarchies and know more about SUVs than horses.

R-e-i-n refers to the part of a horse’s bridle (that’s the thing that goes over the horse’s head) that you use to control the horse, consisting of two long straps, attached to the metal “bit” in the horse’s mouth, usually referred to as “the reins.”

Once in the saddle, you hold the reins in your hand, pull them to the left or the right to steer the horse, and pull back on them (often saying “WHOA!”) to stop the horse, which is called “reining the horse in.”



R-e-i-g-n, on the other hand, has almost an opposite meaning, it being the term of office of a sovereign (sovREIGN an easy way to remember it), or a period of violent times, as in the Reign of Terror (we’ve had a couple at The Aspen Times), or of political times.

We could speak of the Reign of Mick Ireland or the Pseudo Reign of The Red Ants or the Reign of the Democrats, but if you want to curtail or change the course of these reigns you want to “REIN them in,” not “reign them in.”




“The reign of talk radio has gotten completely out of hand – we must rein it in” would be the correct usage if you didn’t care about freedom of speech.

If you think of it as a matter of horses and kings, it isn’t difficult.

There (their) are lots of words in our language that sound the same but are spelled differently. Two (to, too) examples I could cite (site, sight) are weather (whether) and write (right, Wright), not to mention those tricky possessives such as your and you’re, its and it’s and who’s and whose.

Here (hear) we need to pay attention if we don’t want our (are) dispatches turned into gibberish, as is common in our everyday business e-mails.

I try not to wince when I look at the box of my dachshunds’ favorite dog treats sitting on my dresser, the box which proclaims in bold red letters: “The joy of snack time EVERYDAY!”

Hey, it’s 2010, and nobody cares that “everyday” means “ordinary” (I wore my everyday dress) and “every day” (two words) means each and every day – it should be, “the joy of snack time EVERY DAY.”

It’s the Twittering and Texting era (“C U @ 12”), and we can’t depend upon Spell Check to save the day in the event we write something out in whole English. If I had written, “hole English” there, Spell Check would have happily approved it.


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