Tricky Words: Regimen and Regiment

May 24, 2022 | Posted by Jennifer

Sometimes blog post inspiration suddenly falls into my lap. This post is one of those times. As I was driving back from an appointment the other day, I heard the radio news announcer make this statement: Having a daily regiment of walking at least seven thousand steps prolongs health and life.

The word regiment was clear as day. Aha! I said to myself. She confused regiment with regimen. It makes sense. They sound very similar and actually hail from the same branch of the etymology tree. In this blog post let’s take a close look at both words and see what other words might be related as well.

Let’s start with the words’ family tree. Both words share the same Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root: reg-, which loosely means “to move in a straight line.” The root filtered into English through Latin, and some other words that share the same root include the following: regular, regal, rich, right, regime, rectify, and yes, regiment and regimen. All of these words convey some idea of order or leadership.

Now let’s take a closer look at the word regiment. It functions as both a noun and a verb. As a noun it refers to a military unit of soldiers. Used as a verb, it means to organize people into a strict system or pattern. In both senses it is a term that reflects the meaning of the PIE root of moving in a straight line. Regiments are known for their precise order.

At last we come to the word regimen and the word the radio announcer should have used. A noun, regimen refers to having a regular plan, especially related to health, either with diet or exercise or both. This is the word our poor radio announcer meant to say when she was talking about cultivating a daily walking routine, but it is easy to see how it could be confused with regiment. A health regimen is something that is orderly and observed faithfully, which makes sense when we consider the meaning of the root reg-.

If you’ve ever tripped over these two words, you are not alone. If a radio announcer, who is paid to deliver the news to her listening area, can stumble, we all can. English is a tricky language, after all.

Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.

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