Razed to the Ground

By Simon Kewin

The englishmonarchs.co.uk web site reports that many monasteries were “raised to the ground” by Viking raiders during the reign of King Ethelred I.

But how can a monastery be “raised to the ground”?

Although commonly seen on the web, the phrase “raised to the ground” is almost always a misspelling of “razed to the ground”.

Whilst it is possible for something to be “raised” to the ground, it would, logically, have to be below the surface beforehand. Miners could raise ore to the ground. But when talking about a building or a city the phrase should be “razed to the ground”.

Raze – which sounds the same as raise but is a completely distinct word – is defined by the Compact Oxford Dictionary as follows :

raze (also rase)

• verb, tear down and destroy (a building, town, etc.).

— ORIGIN Old French raser ‘shave closely’, from Latin radere ‘scrape’.

The more familiar “raise”, however, is from a completely different root :

• verb, lift or move to a higher position or level etc.

— ORIGIN Old Norse, related to REAR.

As an aside, “raise” can also be a noun, meaning an increase in salary, although this is standard only in US English. In UK English this would be called a “rise”.

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8 Responses to “Razed to the Ground”

  • Paul Russell

    I’m glad you’ve raised this issue;-)

    Seems to me “razed to the ground” is wrong too, because if “raze” means “tear down” then doesn’t “raze” imply it’s already on the ground? Is there some other way you can raze a building? Wouldn’t it be more correct to say “the building was razed”?

    –paul

  • Simon Kewin

    Paul,

    “The building was razed” would be fine, but I think “razed to the ground” works too. The “to the ground” is perhaps superfluous most of the time but I suppose a building could be blown up so that there is nothing left of it?

    Simon.

  • Deborah H

    My grandmother (1900-1974) always fussed when anyone said razed “to the ground.” She insisted that the word “razed” included “to the ground” in its meaning.

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Paul Russel, I believe the phrase is correct. The “to the ground” part acts as an intensifier. That is, razing a building would imply that you destroyed it, but razing it “to the ground” implies that you completely destroyed it.

  • Paul Russell

    @Daniel: I’m with Deborah’s Grandmother on this one. It’s like our local Formula 1 commentator who insists on saying “the softer of the two compounds” when discussing tires. I think “of the two” is as redundant as “to the ground.”

  • umber

    I don’t think grandma has much of a case for this one. Razed means torn down, or destroyed, but not necessarily all the way to the ground. This isn’t nearly as clearly redundant as the “Capitol building” or “gather together” or “circle around” that we hear all the time.

  • Bill Sandifer

    There may be fine distinctions between American and British English, but Merriam-Webster defines raze as “to destroy to the ground.” As an English major and lifelong writer, I was always taught that as well. Broadcasters in both countries have hijacked the language through overwriting and unnecessary emphasis. Commonly heard on BBC is “surrounded on three sides,” which makes my skin crawl. It has now infested much of American broadcasting as well, “completely destroying” any finesse. Almost all writers now use that description which is also redundant. If it’s not destroyed then it’s damaged. Destruction is complete, rendering the addition of “completely” redundant. Let the language speak for itself.

  • Barbara Sparling

    I always understood that “razed to the ground” actually meant burnt to the ground (i.e. burned completely out so there was nothing left). However, I can see that “razed” is a corruption of razored so suppose my original concept was inaccurate, although not wrong necessrily

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