On Linguistic Befuddlement

Let’s suppose there’s a word with a specific meaning, that you would use in a specific context, under a specific set of circumstances.

Let’s suppose you see that word used in a related, though not identical, set of circumstances.

The word is “reign.”

Now, I would use the word “reign” in the context of monarchy. “King Henry reigned over England in the 16th century.” “The reign of King Henry was marred by religious quarrels.”

I wouldn’t use “reign” in connection with a President of the United States, however.

Yet, twice this week, in different contexts, that’s exactly what I saw.

The first came over the weekend. For a variety of reasons, which I hope to blog about soon-ish, I read a Glenn Beck book, and he used the term “reign” to describe George Washington’s presidency. Don’t ask me the page and number of the cite, because I doubt I could find it again. Washington didn’t “reign” over the United States. Washington governed the United States, Washington presided over the new nation. The word “reign” just doesn’t fit any conception I would have of the presidency. And given my reading of Beck as an anarcho-libertarian, I can’t imagine why he would use the word “reign” in the context of the American system of governance. But, perhaps, using the word “reign” to describe a presidency is current in right-wing circles. πŸ˜•

Today, I saw the word “reign” used again. In this case, it described George W. Bush’s presidency. I think the exact phrase was “During President George W. Bush’s reign…” As it was for something I was working on at work, I changed the phrasing — “reign” became “term,” or maybe I changed it to “During George W. Bush’s presidency…” I don’t remember exactly how I ultimately wrote out the passage from the suggested text, because I wrote a lot today and my brain feels mildly mushy. What I do remember is that this particular paragraph needed a lot of work. And no, I didn’t let my feelings for Bush infect the writing. 😎

This use of the word “reign” — now that I’ve seen it twice this week — has me a bit baffled and befuddled. I look at it, and it looks wrong. It feels wrong. It’s the wrong word.

Isn’t it?

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