Words we mix up: rein or reign

Even though most of us don't use horses or buggies as our main transportation these days, our language still has horse-related idioms, which writers sometimes mix up.

One idiom that came up in a story I edited this week was rendered "full reign," to imply that something was unhampered. In fact, the idiom is "full rein" as in allowing a horse to gallop all out. "Free rein" is a variation of that.

Sometimes, writers report that efforts have been made to "reign in" an activity. That, too, should be "rein," as when a rider pulls up on the horse's reins to slow or stop the animal.

Also, if a person is in power, he "holds the reins," not "reigns." On the other hand, if a person has power over a group, he "reigns supreme."

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.