How to avoid Mr Sammy Soundalike

By: PHILIP OCHIENG

In the headline Rout out Imperial bank chiefs, MPs urge Central Bank (Sunday Nation, November 15, 2015), what could the sub-editor mean by the verb “to rout”?

What does it mean to “rout out”? I ask because I genuinely do not know. In my ken, the verb to rout does not take the adverb out.

And it has three possible meanings: one, to find by means of a thorough search; two, to remove from, for instance, a party’s membership (as Kanu used to do to internal critics); and, three, to defeat overwhelmingly (as in soccer or a war).

Into which of these three can anyone fit the Sunday Nation’s headline?

The answer: Into none. For the sub-editor is a victim of Mr Sammy Soundalike.

To rout was not the verb he wanted: No, what he needed was only something which sounds like it, namely, to root, which, with the adverb out, means to destroy, root and all, as a farmer does to a weed.

For its part, To route is to send something or someone in a particular direction or through a particular path.

In the ear, to rout is easy to recognise from both to route because rout comes out of the mouth verily like ra-oot, whereas both root and route come out of the mouth much more like Ruto, the (Kalenjin) name of our indefatigable Deputy President, minus the ultimate “o”.

If you are learning French and are alert to etymology, you will easily recognise it in three French words: Rute (the obsolete word whose modern forms are route and rue, all three referring to a thoroughfare, whether as narrow as the path leading to your village or as wide as the Avenue des Champs-Elysees in central Paris.

THE CORRECT WORD

The probable problem Mr Sammy Soundalike poses is that the English word root sounds exactly like the Franco-English word route.

Primarily, however, root has nothing to do with above-ground thoroughfares.

Literally, it refers only to that part of a plant which, as COLLINS puts it, “anchors the rest of the plant in the ground” so that it can absorb food (water and minerals) from the soil.

Metaphorically, however, root may refer to the causal origin of ideas, inventions and a social systems.

For instance, all liberal democratic ideas and institutions are rooted in the adolescence of the market and all socialist ideas and movements have their roots in the same market at a more advanced age.

But it is because radicus is the Latin word for a root that, metaphorically, ideas which delve down to the roots of society (including Kenya’s “grassroots”) are described adjectivally as radical.

Thus a radical (noun) is a person who advocates politico-economic changes which go down to the social radicus.

That takes us back to the Sunday Nation’s headline writer.

What he really had in mind was, not to “rout out Imperial bank chiefs”, but to root them out, to pull them — radici and all — out of the ground, to eradicate them by uprooting.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION