Monday, January 6, 2014

Word of the Week: Rue

Thoughts of the Past (1859)
by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope
I drove past a sign advertising the store rue21 the other day and thought that phrase doesn't necessarily mean what they think it means. Depending on how you interpret the word rue, it could mean the exact opposite of what they're going for. According to the about page on the rue21 web site:
“rue” comes from the French word for “street” while “21” embodies the age that everyone wants to be! Inspired by the spirit and style of one of the best times in life...
Maybe. I guess for people less than 21, that age might seem rather magical. It's the point at which you can start legally soaking your little grey cells in alcohol. Perhaps that's the year that you acquire your first credit card. You probably also haven't heaped up a mountain of regrets yet, but they'll soon pile up if you take the alcohol path or start shopping with a credit card.

The primary meaning of rue in English is to feel regret or sorrow as in the common phrase "rue the day." Rue also refers to a type of evergreen shrub and lastly, is a French word for street.

The regretful rue comes from the Middle English rewe, which derives from the Old English hreowan, meaning to distress or grieve, which finds it roots in the Proto-Germanic khrewanan. Similar words, meaning to feel sorrow are found in Old Frisian, Middle Dutch, Old Dutch, Old High German, and German.

The shrubby rue derives from the Old French rue or rude, which comes from the Latin ruta, which likely has its roots in the Greek rhyte whose etymology is uncertain. The rue shrub has bitter tasting leaves which have some medicinal uses. Perhaps people rued tasting the rue leaves.

The French street rue comes from the Vulgar Latin ruga, meaning a furrow, which in Medieval Latin came to signify a path or street.

I suspect many young people will someday rue the day they walked into a mall with their very own bright and shiny credit card. It pays (saves in this case) to know what words mean.


  1. I had a sheep named Rue--- named by the breeder--- and it was kind of appropriate since the plant rue is supposed to be a mild wormer suitable for lambs.

    1. Interesting. Now we know what some of the medicinal purposes were. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Interesting stuff. The word always makes me think of The Murders in the Rue Morgue...

    1. So if you had seen that sign you would have imagined 21 razor-wielding orangutans. Truly terrifying.