Don’t ewe, er, you love homonyms?
I almost made a mistake with the word rein today. Talking about a business group that wants to push back on some of the actions being taken by the National Labor Relations Board, I wrote the headline, “Group lobbies Congress to reign in NLRB.”
I moved on to something else but fortunately I quickly felt a knot in my stomach telling me I had dropped a verbal turd somewhere in the last few minutes so I went back and the error hit my eye like a big pizza pie, to quote Dino.
With a few keystrokes I cleaned up the error and started to think about the homonyms rain, rein and reign. It’s interesting that each can be both a verb and a noun. Further, there’s a little overlap in a certain sense between rein and reign.
The best way to think of reign is to consider it in the sense of royalty reigning (ruling) over a kingdom. But rein also has the concept of control as a major dimension of its meaning. An important difference is that with rein the control is always restraining or curbing, while the person who reigns has power that extends far beyond merely keeping things in check. During her reign, a queen might conduct a war or open trade to a country, for example.
Rain is the easy one. It falls from the sky and is wet, unless we use it in a figurative sense, “A rain of bullets took out the invaders.” I suppose it could “reign dogs and cats” somewhere in the animal kingdom, but otherwise the correct one to use there is “rain.”
Rain: The wet stuff or falling things in large quantities.
Rein: To constrain or the harness we use to steer and stop horses.
Reign: What Prince Charles will probably never do in England and the period of time Queen Elizabeth has been on the throne.