Regime change

Twice recently, I noticed a system of healthful habits being described as a regime.

The first reference was in a rerun of The Dick Van Dyke Show, in which Sally Rogers referred to her new diet regime. My ear twitched a bit, recognizing a potential misuse of regimen, while I also considered it might have been a colloquialism of its time some half a century ago.

Then yesterday, I read the same use in the Washington Post’s Health & Science section, in which the author of a recent book assured readers that, in order to age healthfully, they needn’t “go all out with a major fitness regime…” Prior to this, the only regimes I’d read about in the Post were systems of governmental power. I made a note to investigate.

My first scratch into the matter had me feeling pretty cocky. Indeed, the definitions I located defined a regime as a form of government (e.g., a fascist regime), a government in power, a prevailing social system or pattern, a period during which a particular administration or system prevails.

My cockiness wilted when I read an alternate definition—“a regulated system, as of diet and exercise; a regimen”—but I had just enough left to fuel one more regimen-related peeve.

Healthy Regiment

Healthy Regiment

I have a friend who likes to refer to her “regiment” of eating fruits and vegetables. My friend is not alone; the internet has no shortage of references to healthy regiments.

No matter how you slice your produce, there’s no room to rationalize that one. A regiment is an army unit. Period.

One of my favorite sources of analysis on such matters, the Visual Thesaurus, has a thoughtful explanation of regime v. regimen, pulling from various medical publications and etymological authorities to compare the two. They explain that regimen and regime are known as “doublets,” two words that have entered the language from the same source by different routes. They further advise, “If you use regime, you can be confident that you have a couple of centuries of accepted usage on your side. But if you want to make sure you don’t set off anyone’s pet-peeve alarms, stick with regimen.”

So technically, Sally Rogers and the Post are correct, though regime in this context appears to still bother many healthcare professionals. And me.

Nevertheless, Visual Thesaurus states, “Anyone who confuses regimen and regiment betrays ignorance of an elementary verbal distinction.”

They said it, not I.


Filed under All Things Wordish, Health

10 responses to “Regime change

  1. Dan Ruskin

    “Regime” is now loaded, isn’t it? Limbaugh’s “regime” is The White House.

    Your mention of Ben Zimmers Visual is more than a courtesy. It’s a gift for us.

  2. Deidra

    I need a regiment to keep me on a good diet – about 50 soldier to keep me focused.

  3. I believe I’m in a (fairly) good position to support you here:

    ‘Regimen’ is a supervised or regulated course of something with a view to getting some result – that is, a regimented use of certain things. I know – I was once a medical labtech at a London teaching hospital (many decades ago). Much later, I ended up being a sub-editor of a medical laboratory handbook, and ‘regimen’ is the proper (accepted?) term for use that obviates legal malpractice issues.

    ‘Regiment’ is a formation of infantry comprising usually one to three battalions. It’s a little harder for the average Brit to confuse ‘regiment’ with anything else because the basic infantry unit arrangement in the UK is named “[X] Regiment” or organised along the lines of ‘county regiments’: e.g. the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, the Royal Anglian Regiment, the Parachute Regiment, etc. I ought to know, because I grew up in the UK and was once in the infantry there.

    Which leaves ‘regime’ (a mode or system of managing rule), which is how the word originally means in French when it entered into the English language.

    Scorecard: Wordnymph is right. So is Visual Thesaurus.

    • Dear Naked, I popped awake with the troubling question: If “regiment” is a mistaken word for “regimen,” then why is the past tense verb (regimented) used to describe a strict routine or a person exercising such? Is that because a regimented person, or his/her disciplines, is military in nature? I am certain you will have the answer.

      • All three words ‘regime,’ ‘regimen’ and ‘regiment’ have the same origins (from Mediaeval French, itself from Latin, but not directly from Latin) that ultimately means some kind of guidance or control. You are correct in supposing ‘regimented’ (verb) means TO FORCE ORDER in strict and uniform manner in the same way 18th-century European infantry regiments were forced to do on manoeuvres. Most likely the original English-language users were applying English derivatives of the Old/Middle French word (I forget which) for “to form a regiment” as a kind of metaphor whose imagery has become lost over the last 400 years.

  4. See? I knew you’d know. I feel better now.

  5. I recently noticed how people commonly use “notorious” for “notable”. This should be right up your alley. (Or have you treated it before? There’s no search box on your site.)

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