January 27, 2008

not just a victory, a rout

"After four great contests in every corner of this country, we have the most votes, the most delegates, and the most diverse coalition of Americans that we've seen in a long, long time" [Barack Obama after the South Carolina primary elections]

The media uniformly used the word "rout" to refer to Barack Obama's victory over Hillary Clinton and John Edwards in South Carolina. What is the origin of this word? Going back to the Latin word for "broken" (ruptus), it was first in reference to a troop of persons or a group of animals. It then took on the meaning of "retreat of part of an army" and from there "a complete overthrow" (OED). It is related to "route" and the two words used to be spelled the same until the late 18th century, when they parted ways in terms of semantics, spelling, and, for most speakers, pronunciation.

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