Reave - Reeve

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Reave and reeve form one of the sets of homophones listed by the then Poet Laureate Robert Bridges.
(For more, see Bridges homophones). AWE has a category listing our articles on each of these.

Both reave and reeve are pronounced to rhyme with 'leave', IPA: /liːv/. There is also the homophonous reive (sometimes rieve). The past forms of the commonest 'reave' are both reaved, although a "chiefly poet[ic]" past participle reft is recorded, as bereft is a past participle of bereave. When talking of death, use bereaved; loss of other kinds can leave the loser bereft ("she was bereft of her senses by this sudden news"; jilted lovers may be bereft of sleep).

  • Of the three verbs 'to reave' listed in OED (2009), one ('poke into', 'pry'; past forms reaved) is obsolete (and rare); one ('to tear the roof off [a building, etc]; past forms reuvved) is dialectal (and also rare); and a third ('to cleave', 'to split in two'; past forms reft), though slightly less rare historically is little heard nowadays.
    • There is a noun reave with a technical use in archaeology: "A long low boundary wall or bank of a type found esp[ecially] on Dartmoor, in Devon" (OED, 2009)
    • The commonest reave is mostly now used in writing of Scotland and Scottish history: 'to reave' is 'to steal' or 'rob', usually with violence and in numbers; it can mean 'to raid'. It is mostly used in Scots, usually written rieve or reive (see below).
  • The verb 'to reeve' is essentially a nautical term. It means 'to pass [e.g. a rope] through [a pulley, block or ring, etc.]'. there are occasional figurative uses, for example of a ship 'threading' (or inching cautiously) its way through pack ice.
  • OED records four nouns spelled reeve, of which two, 'a string or rope [e.g. of onions]' or 'a long strip', 'a wrinkle' or 'a ridge' - this may be coincidental with the noun reave above - and 'a walled enclosure', 'a pen', 'a yard' are rare enough for AWE to avoid. This leaves two meanings that may be useful in academic English:
    • in history, and in some archaic law, a reeve was a high official, from Anglo-Saxon times. In towns, the chief magistrate was the borough-reeve or port-reeve; in counties, the shire-reeve has become the sheriff
    • in ornithology and other life sciences, the reeve is the hen-bird, or female, of the sandpiper species Philomachus pugnax, of which the cock is called a ruff
  • The verb 'to reive', also spelled rieve, is the form predominant in Scotland of the verb to reave in the sense 'to steal' or 'rob'.
    • The derived agent noun reiver (or riever) means 'a robber', 'a raider', 'a plunderer'. The reivers most commonly spoken of are those, more fully called Border Reivers, who lived in the lawless moorlands on the borders of England and Scotland and who, until the accession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne, as James I in 1603, and the subsequent century of struggle to establish the rule of law, based a large part of their economic activity on cattle rustling, horse theft, kidnapping and ransom, as well as the casual despoiling of property. Many of the exploits of these marauders are recorded (and embellished) in the Border ballads, and thereafter romanticizd by such writers as Sir Walter Scott. It is largely due to the activities of the reivers that the area of the Borders became known as the Debatable Lands: neither government could enforce law and order, particularly where nationality of any particular felon was hard to establish.
    • There were also
      • sea reivers - a 16th century way of talking about pirates. In Iowa, reivers were river pirates, particularly the brigands on the Missouri river in the 19th century.