Root.

My wife asked me about the etymology of the verb root in root for ‘support (a sports team)’; I looked it up in the American Heritage Dictionary and told her it was “possibly alteration of rout ‘to bellow, used of cattle.’” But I thought I’d better get a second opinion, so I checked the OED, which includes it in the entry for root “Of a pig: to turn up the ground, etc., with the snout in search of food,” updated September 2010, and says:

It has been suggested that it may be a transferred use of the sense ‘to dig’, ‘to turn up the ground’, perhaps ‘with the imagery of stamping so hard that one is visualized as digging a hole’ (see G. Cohen Stud. in Slang (1989) II. 67–8). A connection with rout v.4 ["Of cattle: to bellow; to low or moo loudly"] has also been suggested, but is unlikely on phonological grounds (although compare rout v.9) and also perhaps also on semantic grounds, since some early examples emphasize stamping and clapping rather than cheering.

The first citation is from 1889 (World (N.Y.) 7 June 11/4 “All during the game Jim never blinked, and he rooted more energetically and with twice the freedom of a Yorkshire porker”); the most recent gives me great pleasure:

2004   M. St. Amant Committed xx. 160 How can anyone root for the Yankees and claim to have a human soul?

Also under this root they include the Austral. and N.Z. coarse slang sense (‘fuck’), with the first citation from 1922, in (of all things) J. Joyce Ulysses iii. 719 (“All the poking and rooting and ploughing he had up in me”).

Comments

  1. .. which shows the Irish origin of some (much?) Oz and NZ slang ?

  2. Breffni says:

    Surely ‘rooting’ in the Ulysses quote would fit better under OED’s sense 3b: “intr. orig. Brit. regional and Irish English. To rummage around; to search through something; to pry or poke into something. Freq. with about, around, through, or other adverbs.”

  3. Surely it’s both.

  4. Stefan Holm says:

    The diverse meanings of English root are essentially similar in Swedish, both as a noun (‘rot’) and as a verb (‘rota’). There is however also a Sw. reflexive expression: “rota ihop sig” meaning gather, flock … especially of a group of persons for the aim of conspiracy, riot or mutiny, (Swedish Academy’s Word Book). An example from 1776 is: Och rottade Bönderne (i Estland) sig tillhopa 1343 med et obeskrifveligt raseri emot alt, som hade namn af Tysk. (And ’rooted’ the peasants (in Estonia) themselves together in 1343 with an indescribable fury against all that had the name of German).

    The word book also says that it etymologically is connected to ‘rote’ (squad), the, earlier, smallest unit in the Swedish army and that the origin is French ‘route’. And here’s what Online Etymology Dictionary says under rout (noun):

    Old French route “host, troop, crowd,” … here with sense of “a division, a detachment.” It first came to English meaning “group of soldiers” (early 13c.), also “gang of outlaws or rioters, mob” (c.1300).

    Couldn’t this meaning of ‘root’ have survived in colloquial English without being generally noticed by grammarians? After all we’re talking about ‘the people’s game’, where everybody knows that ‘root for’ is just as much ‘root against’, as perfectly illustrated by Hat’s 2004 quote about the Yankees.

  5. Brett: I was about to write that rooting, in the quote, doesn’t mean ‘fucking’ any more than ‘ploughing’ does, that it’s just descriptive. But I see that ‘plough’ actually has been slang for ‘fuck’, and that Joyce used it in that sense elsewhere in Ulysses ([Circe] 528 Plough her! More! Shoot! – OED). Even so, I’d want to see evidence that Joyce was drawing on an established sense of ‘root’, as distinct from using it as a nonce description, before I’d buy the idea that it’s related to the Aus / NZ use.

  6. The Australian word for rooting in the American sense is barracking, which has evolved from ‘root against’ to ‘root for’.

  7. Rodger C says:

    Time by, their dust was flesh the swineherd rooted sly,
    Flared in the reek of the wiving sty with the rush
    Light of his thighs, spreadeagle to the dunghill sky …
    –Dylan Thomas

  8. Stefan Holm says:

    So, John, your President’s first name really means ‘gather for me’ ? :-)

    Rodger: Wonderful! Dylan Thomas could make me rethink about English post-Shakespearean poetry.

    And David, Stu and others on site: Knowing that we, the silly Swedes, have borrowed linguistic horseloads from German, aren’t there any expressions such as sich zusammenroten, “root oneselves together”, “conspire” or the like to be found in the annals.

  9. The Canadian clothing brand Roots always gets a few stares and laughs over in Australia.

  10. Stefan: aren’t there any expressions such as sich zusammenroten, “root oneselves together”, “conspire” or the like

    sich zusammenrotten = come together in a mob

    A Rotte is a disorderly, trouble-seeking group of people. According to Duden, Rotte also has military senses (apart from the “group of boars” one): an operating formation consisting of two ships or planes, or (an older sense) a file of soldiers (standing behind each other).

  11. GeorgeW says:

    Offhand, I can’t think of a more formal synonym for ‘root for.’ ‘Support’ could include a more tangible form of affiliation (financial, etc.). “Cheer’ is a vocal form of rooting for where one can root for without uttering a sound.

    Another informal synonym (at least in my part of the world) is ‘pull for.’

  12. The OED has square brackets for maybe-maybe-not antedatings. The Ulysses quote belongs inside a pair.

    Is “rooting” for a team limited to the duration of a match? The longer-term action is “following”.

  13. J. W. Brewer says:

    I would say in AmEng one can “root” for a team in a more open-ended way that simply for the duration of a game. But that might also be a “habitual” sort of use, the way one can say that so-and-so smokes Marlboros or drinks Guinness even if they happen not to be smoking or drinking at the particular moment the statement is made. But it can also be a one-off, i.e. if the team one generally roots for is not playing in a particular game of significance, one might still choose to root for one of the teams that is playing in the specific context of that game (and w/o prejudice to rooting against them on other occasions).

  14. GeorgeW says:

    I agree with J. W. Brewer. One can say:

    Short term: “I am a Braves fan (Atlanta baseball team), but I am rooting for the Yankees today.” or

    Long term: “I root for the Braves. (long term)

    But, one would not say in the above context, “*I support the Yankees.”

    “Follow” could mean just to keep up with rather than support or root for.

  15. “Oh, I root for all the teams. Just call me an athletic supporter.”

  16. “Old French route “host, troop, crowd,” … here with sense of “a division, a detachment.”

    This is analogous to the Chinese term for a corps, e.g. 八路军 Bā​lù​jūn​, the Eighth Route Army. Wait – except that there is a homophonous term 陆军 lù​jūn​, that simply means “land forces” = army.

    Anyway, it’s a pretty reasonable name for a corps and it does not have to be a borrowing, although every military uses French terminology, and either word for “lù’ would be a reasonable and even likely transliteration for “route”.

  17. marie-lucie says:

    Jim: “Old French route “host, troop, crowd,” … here with sense of “a division, a detachment.”

    This military use of the term must have been very specialized, since the TFLI only mentions rute/route even in its earliest attestation with meanings such as ‘way, direction, path, road’ as in the modern language, and later derived meanings. But the OF word mentioned by Jim is indeed listed in at least one dictionary of medieval French. In any case, as explained in the TLFI, the French word is derived from Latin rupta in the phrase via rupta, literally ‘broken way’, referring to the building of roads, probably because of the broken rocks or stones necessary for this task. The word rupta is the feminine form of the past participle of the verb rumpere ‘to break’, and rumpere viam became the normal way of referring to building a road, which was one of the tasks performed by Roman armies.

    It is not difficult to imagine that rupta, short for via rupta, acquired the main meaning ‘road’, since via had the more general meaning of ‘way’*, but more difficult to justify the meaning extension to troop, etc. However, la route does occur in the originally military term la déroute, a derivative referring to the actions of a panic-stricken group of soldiers which forgets discipline, breaks up and scatters in all directions, every man for himself. So perhaps the positive la route in the OF military context referred not just to a road but to an organized, disciplined army group marching on the road.

    *The general meaning of via is found in the Christian saying attributed to Jesus via et veritas et vita, usually translated in English as ‘[I am] the way, the truth and the life’. I find this translation or adaptation rather awkward since the desire for formal consistency forces the use of the article in front of all three words, while truth and life do not need it in this general context. Here the Romance languages have an advantage since although they need each word to be preceded by the article that the Latin does not use, that use is consistent, and they preserve the alliteration at the beginning of the words.

  18. The sense relating to panicked soldiers fleeing is “rout” (noun and verb) in English. Wiktionary has this etymology:

    1598, “disorderly retreat,” from Middle French route “disorderly flight of troops,” literally “a breaking off, rupture,” from Vulgar Latin rupta “a dispersed group,” literally “a broken group,” from Latin rupta, feminine past participle of rumpere “to break” (see rupture). The verb is from 1600.

    Some of the definitions listed there refer to groups that are not disorganized, though I can’t remember seeing the word used that way.

  19. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks, KI.

    While French route ‘road, etc’ is attested in Old French (12C), and so is route ‘troupe, etc’ (which has not survived), déroute is only attested much later. Perhaps the derivative was coined because of the ambiguity of route in a military context?

  20. Let’s not forget router, the tool that carves a path along the surface of a piece of wood or metal.

  21. A common expression in 19th century America was “Root, hog, or die“. In those days people used to let hogs just roam around and feed themselves. So that refers to digging things up or generally eking a precarious living. Difficult to go from there to supporting a team though. Spectator team sports became popular around the last two decades of the 19th century. That would be the time to look at.

    Paul Ogden: I am one of those people who pronounces “route” the same as “root”. Nevertheless, I have never heard of that tool being pronounced any other way than rhyming with “shouter”. On the other hand I cringe when I hear the same pronunciation being applied to a networking device, which I think should rhyme with “shooter”. But the other pronunciation seems to be becoming the accepted one.

  22. GeorgeW says:

    maidhc, I (Southern AmE), tend toward ‘route’ with the shout vowel although I could use ‘route’ with the root vowel. But my networking device is unequivocally a ‘router’ (shouter vowel).

  23. I grew up in North Carolina and Virginia pronouncing “route” as “root” and would never pronounce “Route 66″ with the “shout” vowel. But computer networking is starting to change that. No one pronounces the networking device “router” with anything but the “shout” vowel, the same as the woodworking tool of the same spelling (which comes from “rout”, not “route”). And since “root” is also used in computer contexts, having a different pronunciation for “route” might avoid some confusion.

  24. @Keith Ivey: I met somebody a few years ago who pronounced a computer “router” like “rooter.” I briefly thought he was talking about a malware program. (In a vacuum, I might have been more likely to think of the malicious creator/user of the malware, but it was clear in context that he was not talking about a human.)

  25. Keith: But computer networking is starting to change that. No one pronounces the networking device “router” with anything but the “shout” vowel,

    I don’t doubt that is true in Virginia. German IT people, by contrast, speak to each other in German larded with English technical expressions. These expressions are pronounced in accordance with tradition. They entered the language from one English source or another, took on the corresponding English pronunciation modified by German phonetic habits, and that, apparently, was that.

    In particular, over the last 30 years “router” has been pronounced “rooter” in German. I doubt that will ever change, because Germans associate the word with the German Route = “route”, which has only one pronunciation: “root-[schwa]“.

    When these German IT people speak English with non-Germans, they use the same English expressions with the same pronunciation. Computer networking doesn’t change that. All these people are by profession computer networkers, not students of phonetic trends, and certainly not followers of phonetic fashion.

    Speech glitches are ignored, if they are at all noticed as glitches. In terms of “state of the language”, England is to America as America is to Germany. The current state of English in Germany corresponds to an earlier state of English in America. Two routes diverged in a yellow wood.

  26. Keith: spare a thought for us on the other side of the pond. ‘Router’ rhymes with ‘shooter’ for me, and I think others in Ireland. Also for this guy, whose accent I can’t quite identify, but it sounds English to me. And OED gives ‘rooter’ as the British pronunciation.

  27. J. W. Brewer says:

    That “route” should be pronounced homophonously with “root” rather than “rout” was one of the shibboleths my 8th grade English teacher was particularly fixated on. (It was no big deal for me because I natively had the prestige pronunciation on this as on the other handful of shibboleths she prescriptivized about, but the same was not true for all of my classmates). If the computer-hardware usage feeds back into the “Route 66″ context and eventually changes what is perceived as the prestige pronunciation that would be quite fascinating.

  28. I think that “root” is no longer the prestige pronunciation for route in non-computer contexts in the U.S.; “root” and “rout” are regionally distinguished, perhaps, but current AmE dictionaries list both without comment.

  29. Rodger C says:

    Does the isogloss for “root/rout” for “route” map exactly onto the isogloss between the pronunciations of “root” to rhyme with “suit” or “foot”? I would have thought so.

  30. Rodger, I’d be surprised. Pronouncing “route” like “rout” seems much more widespread than rhyming “root” with “foot”.

  31. marie-lucie says:

    One of my linguistics profs pronounced “root” (as in, root of a word) to rhyme with “foot”. I think he was from one of the Dakotas.

  32. pronounced “root” (as in, root of a word) to rhyme with “foot”

    I think I have heard that from an English (i.e. born and break in English) speaker on BBC radio who sounded “high-classy” to me.

  33. Rodger C says:

    I recall a Chicagoan on NPR pronouncing “Beirut” to rhyme with “foot.”

  34. Rodger C says:

    @Keith Ivey: Thanks, that’s interesting. Myself, I pronounce “roof” with the “foot” vowel and the other three with the “hoot” vowel.

  35. I’ve always pronounced route as rute, but I’ve detected a variation in pronunciation depending on a slight shift in the word’s meaning. I can’t think of anybody speaking of the famed U.S. highway as anything other than “Rute 66.” Yet when the meaning shifts not to a specific road, but rather to the territory within which a delivery van will meander depending on that day’s parcels’ destinations, then rout is an accepted alternate pronunciation.

  36. I think it works the same way for me.

  37. Breffni says:

    Is route 66 a special case because of the song, or is it the same for any route X?

  38. David Marjanović says:

    A Rotte is a disorderly, trouble-seeking group of people.

    It’s a word Luther used when he wanted to tell you what he really thought.

    Here the Romance languages have an advantage since although they need each word to be preceded by the article that the Latin does not use, that use is consistent, and they preserve the alliteration at the beginning of the words.

    The articles are consistent in German as well, and half of the alliteration is preserved: Ich bin der Weg, die Wahrheit und das Leben.

  39. GeorgeW says:

    Paul Ogden: It works that way for me as well, although I wouldn’t find /rut/ shocking in any context. But, my network devise is always ‘router’ with the shout vowel.

    Keith Ivey: Thanks for the link. That clearly shows the degree of variation that occurs even in the same geographical areas.

  40. J.W. Brewer says:

    m-l, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” is an English translation of the Greek “Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ὁδὸς καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια καὶ ἡ ζωή,” which in the original lacks alliteration and includes definite articles. (Obviously even once translators beginning in the 1520′s made the methodological choice to translate directly from the Greek rather than from a Latin version of that Greek they likely could not completely erase their preexisting cultural knowledge of the Vulgate, especially for well-known passages.) Wycliffe (who had no Greek and was thus going from Latin into an earlier version of English) interestingly enough omitted the articles although he doesn’t try for alliteration: ” Y am weie, treuthe, and lijf.”

  41. marie-lucie says:

    David: A Rotte is a disorderly, trouble-seeking group of people.

    Do you know any more about the origin of this word? Could it have something to do with the obsolete OF word?

  42. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks JWB. It sounds like the Latin translation was made more striking by the fortuitous alliteration. However, via, veritas, vita also makes me think of in vino veritas!

  43. J.W. Brewer says:

    Paul O./Breffni: plenty of AmEng speakers (not me) use “rout” for “route” in contexts like “go two miles down Route 13 and then hang a left.” Maybe less likely in the fixed “Route 66″ because of influence of the song which is standardized on the “root” pronunciation?

    Rodger C.: “roof” with the vowel of “foot” would have put you on the wrong side of another entry on Mrs. Whatshername’s shibboleth list back in 8th grade . . . That was coincidentally during the Carter administration – I wonder if Pres. Carter’s high-profile use of regionally marked phonology retarded rather than advanced the cause of social acceptance of such accents in the U.S. . . .

  44. marie-lucie says:

    JWB: What about Bush jr’s own high-profile use of regionally marked phonology?

  45. GeorgeW says:

    “I wonder if Pres. Carter’s high-profile use of regionally marked phonology retarded rather than advanced the cause of social acceptance of such accents in the U.S. . . .”

    At the time, someone from Georgia remarked that it was nice to have a president who spoke without an accent.

  46. J.W. Brewer says:

    m-l: Dubya’s accent is much closer to standard/unmarked than Carter’s and I think that is generally true of people who grew up in West Texas v. Southwest Georgia without regard to the way in which Dubya’s family background and educational trajectory were not typical for his regional origin. And coastal-elite negative stereotypes about Texans are distinct from those about the indigenes of the Deep South. Texans might be stereotyped as bellicose and vulgar and egomaniacal, but they’re not stereotyped as bone-dumb in quite the same way as rural Georgians. (We had also had a prior Texan president in LBJ, so less of a novelty factor.)

  47. The French phrase en route has become a fixture in English. I would probably say “on root” if I was not attempting to speak French, but I’m sure I’ve heard “en root” and “en rowt”.

  48. David M: Actually, as is normal both then and now, it’s a publisher’s title. Luther’s working title was simply “Against the Rioting Peasants”.

  49. The French phrase en route has become a fixture in English.

    It’s also the name of Air Canada’s inflight magazine, and an example of the quintessentially Canadian marketing art of seeking a word or phrase that works in both languages. Or if you will, offends in neither language. One also sees an occasional pluck from Inuktitut.

  50. John: Actually, as is normal both then and now, it’s a publisher’s title. Luther’s working title was simply “Against the Rioting Peasants”.

    I assume you have taken on this claim from the English WiPe article. The relevant sentence there is: “In May 1525, he wrote Against the Rioting Peasants, a title which would be harshened by printers in other cities without Luther’s approval.” No citation is given. This sentence has been copied in various places in the internet – one giveaway is the replicated word “harshened” – but I find evidence for the claim neither in German nor English sources. Xeroxing does not make it true.

    The Weimarer Gesamtausgabe has modernized the title into Wider die räuberischen und mörderischen Rotten der Bauern, the original title being Wider die Mordischen und Reubischen Rotten der Bawren.

    The WiPe claim does look like a sneaky, one-off attempt to air-brush any offense the title might cause to historical ignorants. But it’s too late for that. The text itself minces no words, so presumptive “working titles” are neither here nor there: man soll sie zerschmeißen, würgen, stechen, heimlich und öffentlich, wer da kann, wie man einen tollen Hund erschlagen muss.

  51. Googling for ["Against the Rioting Peasants" Luther -harshened] turns up plenty of legitimate references.

  52. Bob Hay says:

    Thought it would be worthwhile to check in with Dickson’s Baseball Dictionary, whose entry for “root” is as follows:

    To encourage a player or team by cheering and applauding. 1ST USE. 1886 “The ‘large’ delegation which, according to The World [New York], accompanied the giants to Philadelphia to ‘root for victory’ … Perhaps if all hands ‘root’ a little harder the giants will win today. By the way, what does ‘root’ mean?” (The Boston Globe, May 4; Peter Morris). ETYMOLOGY: Although it has been stated often that the term comes from the notion of a fan who is so close to his or her team that he or she is “rooted” to it, Gerald L. Cohen (Studies in Slang, part 2, 1989) proposed another theory: “The basic meaning of ‘root’ is clearly ‘to dig,’ and rooting can be subdivided into the categories of feet-stamping (‘pedal-music’), shouting (‘chin-music’), and hand-clapping. I believe that ‘pedal music’ may be the key here; we may deal with the imagery of stamping so hard that one is visualized as digging a hole.”

    Also, Dickson lists the first use of “rooter” from 1889: “Cleveland has the most scientific crowd of ‘rooters’ in the country” (The World [New York], Aug. 14; Gerald L. Cohen).

  53. Very interesting!

  54. Rodger C says:

    @George W: I heard that same anecdote told, mutatis mutandis, about LBJ in his day.

  55. As I’ve noted before, in the U.S. it’s very hard to get elected to any office, never mind President, without a regionally marked accent. Reagan as an ex-actor was an exception, and Obama is as well.

  56. But Obama does uses /ɪ/ instead of /i/ at the end of words like happy. Where does that come from?

  57. David Marjanović says:

    Do you know any more about the origin of this word? Could it have something to do with the obsolete OF word?

    Wiktionary says “from Old French rote ‘small group, division’”.

    Where does that come from?

    Is that regionally marked or “just” conservative?

  58. It’s conservative, but there’s something of a mystery about it. Quoth Wikipedia:

    Happy-tensing is absent from many varieties of British English and, traditionally at least, from Southern American English. Other realizations of the final vowel are also possible, such as [e] in Scottish English. The history of happy-tensing is difficult to pin down; the fact that it is uniformly present in South African English, Australian English, and New Zealand English implies that it was present in southern British English already at the beginning of the 19th century. Yet it is not mentioned by descriptive phoneticians until the early 20th century, and even then at first only in American English.

    Obama probably borrowed his non-happy-tensing from AAVE, which is the last major American accent variety that consistently lacks it. The accents of some Southern whites also lack it, but only if they are old enough to be non-rhotic.

  59. David Marjanović says:

    Oh, this mystery reminds me: I’ve heard and make me happyyyyyyyyyyyy (in a song) end in the similarly mysterious [ɘ].

  60. marie-lucie says:

    David: German Rotte < OF rote , both ‘small group, etc”

    I don’t think that those words are semantically related to Old and Modern French route ‘way, road, etc’, but the two OF (quasi-)homophones might still be related at a deeper level, both going back the Latin feminine participle/adjective rupta‘broken, etc’, here probably referring to a small group which has been or become ‘detached’ from a larger one. The cluster -pt- would have first become -tt- in early French, (later simplified to plain -t-), preventing the complete loss of the intervocalic consonants (compare the loss of the single -t- in Latin rota > French roue ‘wheel’).

  61. David Marjanović says:

    The accents of some Southern whites also lack it, but only if they are old enough to be non-rhotic.

    Here’s a non-rhotic rendition of the US national anthem, sung by someone rather young. Warning: it’s really, really bad from a musical point of view.

  62. David Marjanović says:

    both going back the Latin feminine participle/adjective rupta ‘broken, etc’, here probably referring to a small group which has been or become ‘detached’ from a larger one.

    Yes; I should have mentioned that the German Wiktionary says exactly this.

  63. marie-lucie says:

    Good for the German Wiktionary!

  64. David, your link lacks an href and so is correctly displayed but unfollowable.

  65. Let me know the URL and I’ll fix it.

  66. Also, your reference to happyyyyyyyyyyyy suggests the historic (now mostly rural) pronunciation of Missouri as [mizurə], reflecting an accent in which the weak vowel reduction bleeds happy-tensing.

  67. [mɪzurə], I meant to say.

  68. GeorgeW says:

    “the historic (now mostly rural) pronunciation of Missouri as [mizurə]”

    This may be the same process as with some other names ending in /i/ where there was avoidance of the countrified word final /i/< /ə/ like in Grand Ole Opry. When I was growing up (mid last century), some Southerners pronounced Miami /maɪ'æmə/ and definitely Missouri /mɪzurə/.

  69. David Marjanović says:

    Oops. “‘America’s Most Patriotic Band’ Plays America’s Worst Anthem Rendition“.

    [mɪzurə]

    I didn’t mean [ə], though, I meant the elusive [ɘ], terrifying even slightly dyslexic phoneticians everywhere since 1993.

  70. Thanks. Well, the lead singer is no Jimi Hendrix, but I don’t think the performance is so bad.

  71. Yeah, I actually found it kind of refreshing.

  72. Indeed. “To Anacreon in Heav’n / Where he sat in full glee …”

    In reading the WP article, I discovered this: “The setting of new lyrics to an existing tune is called a contrafactum” Whoda thunkit? The things you learn around here! Singing Mendelssohn at Christmas and not knowing it ….

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