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Friday, July 25, 2014

Do not confuse: Regimen, Regiment

Back a few weeks ago when we Canadians were all agog at how our compatriots were faring at Wimbledon, one of our national newspapers invited us to find out more about Milos Raonic's "intense off-season training regiment" in a video on their website.

What they meant was his regimen. (They actually posted the video in January 2014 and despite my chiding them on twitter, they still haven't corrected it).

"Regimen" and "regiment" ultimately come from the same Latin word  regimen (control, management, guidance), derived from regere (to rule, direct). In medieval Latin, this word also meant a course of medical treatment, a way of "controlling" or "managing" your body. From the 1400s on, both "regimen" and "regiment" were used in English to refer to a course of diet, exercise, and medication prescribed for restoration or preservation of health (apparently this included wearing your crown when you took a bath).

But by the 1800s, "regiment" had died out in this sense (except, apparently, at The Globe and Mail), no doubt because meanwhile it had come to refer to  a large body of troops under the command (the "control") of a superior officer, usually forming a permanent unit of an army. The first people to use "regiment" in this sense were the Germans in the 1400s, and from Germany the usage spread to all European languages.

Not content with having only two words derived from this Latin regimen, English borrowed another one, "regime", from French. This also designated a diet and exercise program for "governing" one's life, and showed up in such books as the hilariously titled 1596 tome, Easie Method to cure Spanish Sicknes (i.e. "Curing Syphilis for Dummies"):   "The rest of the time they use good regime, and drinke no other drinke."

It was not until after the French Revolution in 1789 that English adopted the "government" sense of "regime", which was then much in the news as references were made to the French ancien rĂ©gime.  "Regime" in this sense has never been quite able to shake the negative connotations of totalitarian government which clung to it at its birth.  But the "diet and exercise program" sense has no negative connotations, especially in British English, where people are more likely to talk about their "fitness/health regime" whereas on this side of the pond we are more likely to refer to our "fitness/health regimen". 

But NEVER our "regiment". 

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1 comment:

  1. One famous example of confusion of the meaning of "regiment'' is in the title of John Knox's 1558 polemic " The First blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women". Here "monstrous" implies "unnatural" and the "women" were, specifically, the catholic queens Mary of Scotland, together with her mother Mary of Guise and "Bloody" Mary of England. "Regiment" here means "rule" or "ruling power"


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.