Ruth Bass: Have a homonym — summer offers reign or rein but no rain


RICHMOND — We have reining and we have reigning. (There's also raining, but that's quite insignificant this summer.) Several times this year, someone has written about reigning something in. That's the wrong one in this not-simple language of ours. We rein in, meaning pull on the horses so they slow down, and we reign over, meaning to rule as royalty.

During the endless presidential campaign we are enduring, Ben Sasse, senator from Nebraska, took notice of Donald Trump's use of the word reign and for several months has been an outspoken "never Trump" Republican. His stance hasn't set well with his neighbors and in May, he was reprimanded – almost unanimously — at the Nebraska State Republican Convention.

He has persisted, however, expressing hope that a third candidate would appear. He has pointed out, in writing, that in this country, "The law is king, and the people are boss. But have you noticed how Mr. Trump uses the word 'reign' — like he thinks he's running for king? It's creepy actually."

He wrote, "The president's job is not about just mindlessly shouting the word 'strong.' The president's core calling is to 'preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.'"

Vocabulary is only one thing that makes one wonder if Donald Trump sees the Oval Office chair as a throne. He often makes statements about things he'll do as president that he can't do under the Constitution — as those who took high school civics know quite well. As a king, however, it might be quite a different story. Even A.A. Milne's king managed to get his orders followed — eventually, the butter appeared for his breakfast.

Trump's use of the word reign struck me several months ago, but it wasn't when he was talking about his possible presidency. I heard it twice, and each time he referred to something that occurred during George W. Bush's "reign." It gave me pause – did he look on inauguration day as a crowning?

In the meantime, especially since their convention, leading Republicans have been quite concerned with the other "rein." They want to rein in their candidate, keep him reading from a teleprompter, avoid improvisation. As many of them have said, "He needs to stay on message," which certainly translates to staying in the harness of the Republican platform. One critic on television, after hearing that admonition about staying on message, retorted, "But that is his message – whatever he's saying."

Prior to the two conventions, in his open letter on Facebook, Ben Sasse blasted both the Republicans and the Democrats. "They're like a couple arguing about what color to paint the living room, and meanwhile, their house is on fire," Sasse wrote of both major political parties. "They resort to character attacks as step one because they think voters are too dumb for a real debate."

It will be interesting to see what happens to Ben Sasse – a loyal conservative in the Senate – when this, his first term, ends in 2020. Perhaps Nebraska will have forgiven him by then for seeing reality, not a reality show.

Ruth Bass, formerly an Eagle editor, is awed by odd words. Her web site is


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