Posted by: Brad Nixon | September 21, 2020

A Route to the Root of a Routine Routine

The conundrum — a paradox of sorts — confronting tens of millions people around the world has certainly been operational here at Under Western Skies.

The first component of this paradox is that in this extraordinary time of pandemic — closures of schools, businesses, the things of everyday life — our ordinary routines have been severely interrupted.

Secondly, establishing a new routine is … anything but routine.

As a result, a lot of us — perhaps millions of us — have begun to sense a certain … sameness in the days: There are fewer trips to the grocery; few or no visits with family and friends; no casual, last-minute, “Let’s get take-out” decisions. If things that distinguished a Tuesday from a Wednesday, weekends from the work week, are no longer viable, the days collapse into one another. If this is Tuesday, why am I not attending my usual get-together with friends after work? If it’s Saturday, where’s my music lesson?

Here, we miss walking some of our favorite routes, because they’re popular with many people — especially now that recreation at gyms and other gathering places is nonexistent in Los Angeles County. I’m sorry to say that many of those walkers aren’t as assiduous about social distancing or mask wearing as we prefer, so we’re limited in our choices.

Back to the Routine

With that said, I’d like to reestablish my routine of blogging, from which I’ve been — to say the least — recently distracted.

A Few Words about Those Words

This piece, so far, has used three closely-related words that demonstrate why English can be so impenetrably difficult for non-native speakers learning it: routine (noun), routine (adjective) and route.

All three words — by a variety of routes(!) — entered English from either French or Old French route. Prior to that, French acquired it from Latin rumpere, to break. (Spanish retains romper, to break.)

At first glance, this derivation makes no objective sense. That’s not unusual in etymology. Think, though, as blogger Steve Schwartzman at “Portaits of Wildflowers” pointed out to me (gently correcting an earlier version of this paragraph), the notion of “breaking road” or — more simply — a “beaten path.” I’m grateful to Mr. Schwartzman for his contribution.

Whatever We Say It Means

As Humpty Dumpty memorably told Alice, “When I use a word … it means just what I choose it to mean ….”

We English speakers have near carte blanche to transform nouns into adjectives, verbs, whatever we want them to do. To my knowledge, there’s no predicate sense of “to routine,” although we certainly have “route” as a verb. Aggravating, confusing for non-native speakers? Yes.

The Root of Another Problem

We also have the word “root,” the base of a plant or the fundamental aspect of something. While it sounds precisely like one common pronunciation for “route,” not only is it unrelated in meaning, but has an entirely separate origin, from Middle English rot, from Old English rōt, back to Old Norse.

The numerous English homonyms persistently fool native speakers into wrong spellings, not solely those who didn’t grow up with the language.

Back in the Groove?

Will I get my groove back? Reestablish my regular blogging? The route to a routine is rooted in uncertainty. Better routine than rootless.

© Brad Nixon 2020. Quotation from Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, Lewis Carroll; from The Annotated Alice, Martin Gardner, ed.; W.W. Norton, New York, 1960-2000. Citations from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Houghton Mifflin; Boston, New York, 2000. Appreciation to Steve Schwartzman for correct information about rupta via, “broken road.” He attributes the interpretation “beaten path” to John Ayto in Word Origins, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2006.


  1. Do try and get back into the blogging groove Brad. I’ve missed reading your interesting posts

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Marion. I’m weeks behind on your tireless work! Great to hear from you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. In some sections of the global English speaking world, “root” has an additional meaning….

    “Noun. root (plural roots) (Australia, New Zealand, vulgar, slang) An act of sexual intercourse.”


    Liked by 1 person

    • The dictionary entry for root is rather extensive, and I was unaware of that one. A word means what we say it means.


  3. All encouragement to you in getting back to your blogging routine! From another distracted writer, taking refuge in my photography.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m rooting for you on this one!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I’m rooting around for ideas.


  5. Here’s a question: have you and the indefatigable Ms. M ever been to Ganna Walska’s Lotusland in Santa Barbara? A few posts back on Lagniappe, one of my readers mentioned the place, and sang its praises to the sky. I have a sense that garden business isn’t your thing, but there certainly is some history to the place, and interesting architecture, too. Since they regulate the number of visitors, it would suit the times rather well.

    Anyway: it’s good to see your post. Things are settling here a bit, and I have a few pieces for The Task at Hand that could use some finishing up and posting. I’ve been enjoying my photography a good bit, but getting back in the routine of writing would be good. I hope you do, too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • We know of Lotusland, and have read a bit about it, but haven’t been there. Thanks for the reminder that we SHOULD go. We do occasionally go to gardens, botanical gardens, etc., although not one of our prime targets.
      There is a lot in the Santa Barbara we haven’t seen, despite a few trips up there. Thank you.
      We’d recently had it in mind to go see Huntington Gardens, near Pasadena, which we haven’t seen in a couple of decades, but we’re still simply not going out and about much.
      All things in good time. Hope the storms and hurricanes stay away, let you work, shoot, write. I’ve been simply lax about doing this.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Is there a term or phrase to describe stringing together homonyms as you did in your title?

    Liked by 1 person

    • There probably is. This is where you have to go to the portion of the grad student lounge where the Rhetoric crowd hang out. Terrifying people. I wouldn’t go there on a bet. I’d rather make up a term, say, homonymophilia.


  7. I think route probably didn’t develop its meaning from the idea of breaking a trip up into smaller portions, but rather from the physical act of “breaking” through plants or other obstacles to create a road. Latin rupta was an adjective, and as the forerunner of route it originally appeared in the phrase rupta via ‘broken road.’ In Word Origins, John Ayto points to the etymological notion of ‘a path that has been “broken” by constant use, a “beaten track.”‘

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I’m grateful for your correction to my rather ham-handed misunderstanding of “broken road.” I saw “via rupta” but entirely missed the simpler, clearer and accurate “beaten track” signification. I’ll correct the post, with credit to you, and draw attention to it in a subsequent post. It’s generous of you to take time to set me on the correct path, whether well beaten or not.


      • Whether beaten or weather-beaten….

        Liked by 1 person

      • If we branch off into another line of punning in this piece, It’ll never end. Thanks.


  8. I’m catching up backwards so I would say, yes! You did get your groove back!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maybe. As you said in your recent post, there are a lot of distractions! I greatly appreciate having you read and comment.

      Liked by 1 person

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