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Root vs. route vs. rout

The most common definition of root is the underground portion of a plant (though this sense is usually used metaphorically). It has many other meanings, however, including (1) to dig with the snout or nose, (2) to rummage, and (3) to give audible encouragement for a contestant or team.

The meaning of route is narrower. Route refers to (1) a road, course, or way from one place to another, (2) a customary line of travel, (3) a means of reaching a goal, (4) a fixed course for a salesperson or delivery person, or (5) to send on a route. The word is also used in the French loan phrase en route (sometimes spelled enroute), meaning on or along the way.

Depending on the speaker’s background and the sense being used, route is variously pronounced root and route. In the former pronunciation, it is homophonous with root. In the latter, it is homophonous with a third word, rout, which also has several definitions, including (1) a disorderly retreat, (2) an overwhelming defeat, and (3) to defeat overwhelmingly. Also, somewhat confusingly, it shares with root the senses to dig with the snout and to rummage.

Examples

Root


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Gardening took root in the curriculum as a way to help the students build self-confidence and a sense of service. [Albany Times Union]

Hogs work the compost when they root around in their winter piles of straw looking for cracked corn. [The Union of Grass Valley]

This is not simply a guide to which team is going to win, but also whom you should root for. [Denver Post]

Route

A large tree fell across Route 3A Thursday morning. [The Patriot Ledger]

A veteran MBTA bus driver accused of driving his route while drunk has been fired. [Boston Globe]

It was my job to compile the full report for each sub-launched missile and route it to a list of recipients. [Yahoo! News]

Rout

“I’ve become immune to it. It’s part of the business,” said Iguodala, who scored two points in a little more than 11 minutes during the rout of Argentina. [Denver Post]

Warwickshire’s extraordinary routing of their Midlands rivals Worcestershire before lunch on the opening day will serve to kick the recent habit. [Guardian]

Fairfax Media has suffered its biggest single-day share rout since early 2009 after writing almost $3 billion off the value of a suite of assets. [Herald Sun]

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Comments

  1. reardensteel says:

    Ahh… but you did not mention the upper-Midwest (MN/WI) pronunciation of root in which the vowel sound is homophonous with that in foot or book.
    For Minnesotans, there is less confusion among the words root, route, and rout.

  2. geekahedron says:

    The confusion about how to pronounce “route” is somewhat exacerbated by the pronunciation of “router,” which regrettably has two different meanings with different root words (no pun intended).

    In woodworking, you rout (cut or hollow) out shapes in wood with a router, but in computer networking, you route (direct) traffic with a router. Technically, I think the former would be a “rahw-ter” and the latter a “roo-ter,” but despite my best efforts it is practically impossible to use the second pronunciation in conversation without drawing some strange looks or without feeling a little strange myself for having said it.

  3. As an Australian we say Router for Router (IT) but I am sure we say root for route. In the UK it is Rooter for Router(IT) as well as root for route. I thought it was an Americanism but I remember the song Route 66 with the line “I get my kicks on route 66” being pronounced Root 66. Why is that?

    • Hannah Brown says:

      It’s a matter of regional dialect/accent in the US. Kind of similar to what reardensteel above mentioned with the pronunciation in Minnesota being closer to ruht. The more urban/coastal areas will pronounce it route, and the more rural areas like the south and lower mid-west will pronounce it root. I’m from the US, and that song has always bugged me because they are mispronouncing the word – of course I have never lived in the mid-west, and although I did live in the south for a few years, my parents are from the north east, so I learned their way of speaking. To be fair though, sometimes the dialect/accent difference in the US is so extreme that it’s almost like speaking with someone from another country that just happens to be speaking English but they may as well be from the UK or Australia for how similar the accent and word usage is.

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