The Grammarphobia Blog

Routing slips

Q: A question came up on the Leonard Lopate Show about the pronunciation of “route.” Pat said either ROOT or ROWT is correct. I beg to disagree. I am English. And, as any Englishman will tell you, there is only one proper pronunciation: ROOT.

A: The word “route” can be pronounced either ROOT or ROWT in the US.

This is true for both the noun, meaning a course or path, or the verb, meaning to send something by a specific course or path.

In Britain, though, only the first pronunciation is common for the noun and verb. But the British once had both versions too.

As the Oxford English Dictionary explains, the second (ROWT) disappeared from standard British English sometime during the 19th century, “but is still widespread in North America.”

The noun “route” is very old, and was probably first recorded around 1225, the OED says.

It came into English by way of Anglo-Norman and Old French (rute or rote or route). But its ultimate source is the Latin rupta, which the OED says is short for the phrase via rupta (a broken way, or a road opened by force).

The Oxford editors, in commenting on the etymology of the word, also note that the Latin verb rumpere means to break, and rumpere viam means to open up a path.

Our word “routine” is a relative of “route.” And the English word “rut,” which originally meant the track left by a wheel, may have begun as a variant of “route,” according to etymologists.

The figurative sense of “rut,” meaning a narrow, dull, and habitual course or life or action, came along in the mid-19th century, the OED says.

The verb “route” is a relative newcomer, first showing up in the 1880s, according to published references in the dictionary.

The first citation in the OED is from an 1881 guide for stationmasters on the London & North Western Railway:

“To other passengers the old set of tickets, routed via Caledonian Railway, is to be issued.”

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