Word Choice: Rout vs. Route
  • 2-minute read
  • 3rd January 2016

Word Choice: Rout vs. Route

Ah, the English language, will you ever stop confusing us? Why, for instance, would anyone think it’s a good idea to have two words which differ in meaning and sound different, but which are spelled almost identically?

It beats us, yet that’s what we have with “rout” and “route.” It’s easy to get these words mixed up, especially because “rout” is not common in everyday speech. So, what is the difference? And which word should we use in any given instance?

Rout (Lose Badly)

The word “rout” is commonly associated with battles, as it means “a disorderly retreat.” Thus, if an army is defeated and forced to run, we say it was “routed” (“rout” can be used as either a noun or a verb):

During World War II, the French Army was routed at the Battle of Sedan.

A more modern use of “rout” is to mean “an overwhelming defeat”:

In 1990, the 49ers routed the Broncos 55-10 in the Super Bowl.

To the best of our knowledge, however, sporting routs rarely end in the losing team making a disorderly retreat from the field of play.

Route (Go Places)

If nothing else, you’ll probably know the word “route” from the US Highway System. This, in fact, is a big clue to the main meaning of “route,” which is “a road or passage of travel”:

If you ever plan to motor west
Travel my way, take the highway that is best
Get your kicks on Route Sixty-Six

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As well as major travel routes, the word “route” is used for any regular round of stops, such as a “paper route.”

Furthermore, “route” can be used as a verb meaning “direct something”:

Because of the accident, traffic was routed away from the town center.

In both cases, the essence of “route” is always to do with traveling or following a particular course.

Rout or Route?

In everyday life, you’re more likely to need “route” than “rout.” But if you’re discussing a battle or an overwhelming defeat in sport, you might need to use “rout.” Remember:

Rout = An overwhelming defeat and/or disorderly retreat

Route = A road or regular passage of travel

Be careful when using the past tense with these words, though, as both are spelled “routed.”

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