Thursday, April 5, 2018

Language of Confusion: Run

This week’s word is brought to you by Liz. Because she read something that said that run was the most complicated word in the English language and I wanted to see if that was so.

Run first showed up as a verb and then later (in the fifteenth century) as a noun. The verb is actually a combination of two Old English words that are kind of alike, rinnan, to run and irnan/aernan, to ride. Both are from the Proto Germanic rannjanan and its root word ren-, to run, which is from the Proto Indo European rei-, to run or flow.

Rei- is the origin of a lot of words, like derive and rival, both of which I’ve already covered before (though almost three years ago now). And you might be thinking river is related. After all, flowing is what they do. But it’s not. Although river is from a Proto Indo European word “rei-”, it’s a different Proto Indo European rei- that means scratch or tear apart.

Okay, as weird as that is and as diverse in meaning as run may be, I definitely don’t think it’s complicated. But maybe I spent too much time pouring over information on leg-.

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. Running and riding aren't really the same thing though. Except of course the horse could be running, but then the person is just along for the ride.

  2. I wonder how it became a run in one's stockings?

  3. I know run is sometimes used in a river context as a noun- Bull Run is, aside from a battle, named for the waterway called Bull Run.

  4. How do you even decide on the complexity of a word?
    I think "literally" is literally the most complicated word in the English language. The only way something could get more complicated is, say, if "yes" meant both yes and no.

  5. Pretty straightforward development. But think about how many ways one can use run. I think that's where the complexity starts.

  6. I guess the complexity is in the number of ways the word can be used. I mean, run can be a verb and a noun.


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