Rode and Road

By Maeve Maddox

An article on the sports page of my morning paper quoted the owner of the winning horse praising the jockey:

Victor road him really well.

The reporter was reaching for the past tense of the verb ride:

Victor rode him really well.

The error is embarrassing, but etymologically speaking, the words ride and road are related.

Note: If you’re interested in the scholarly details, explore the entries for ride, road, and raid in the OED. I’m just giving a short version.

The verb ride derives from a word that had the following meanings:

to sit on and direct a horse or other animal
to travel on horseback
to travel in a vehicle
to transport goods by vehicle
to direct the movement of a vehicle
(of a ship) to lie or float at anchor; later (12th century) to float on the water

All of these meanings still attach in modern English, for example:

Having been reared in the West, Cooper knew how to ride horses and was able to get a job as an extra in a frontier film, The Thundering Herd (1925).

The captain of a smaller craft might throw out an anchor if the ship needed to ride out a storm.

The most common use of the noun road in modern English is to refer to a wide cleared pathway with a specially prepared surface along which motorized vehicles travel.

In coastal place names, the plural Roads refers to a sheltered section of water where vessels may lie at anchor in safety:

Hampton Roads is the name of both a body of water and a metropolitan region in Southeastern Virginia, United States. 

The ship anchored in the Savona Roads and was reported to the Custom House on the same day.

The Tuscarora left Southampton Water on the 30th of January, but anchored in Yarmouth Roads, and remained there until the 1st of February, when she proceeded as far westward as Portland.

Related or not, rode and road are different words and careful spellers keep them separate.

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