Root - rout - route

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The words root and route are pronounced identically in British English: that is, they are homophones. They both rhyme with 'shoot' and 'boot', IPA: /ruːt/. Most Americans pronounce route to rhyme with 'rout', or 'out and 'shout', IPA: /raʊt/.

  • A root is the part of a plant that grows downwards in the ground, and serves to bring water and nourishment to the whole organism, and to hold it in place. Several figurative meanings have been developed from this original meaning. It is used to mean 'a fundamental idea', or 'the starting point' of something. For its use in language study, see Etymological root. There are other technical meanings in Mathematics, computer programming, genealogy and Astronomy.
  • A route (derived from the French root route, meaning 'road' - which is always pronounced to rhyme with 'shoot' and 'boot', IPA: /ruːt/) is 'a way', 'a road', or 'an itinerary'. There is an associated verb, 'to route', meaning 'to direct by a particular course. During the Battle of the Atlantic, the Admiralty used to route convoys away from areas where submarines were known to be patrolling. A route march (here 'route' is an epithet) is a march under military command by a specified way or road(s).
  • A rout (with no '-e-'), which is always pronounced to rhyme with 'out and 'shout', IPA: /raʊt/, is a word which is listed in OED as having ten meanings as a noun and ten as a verb. Many of these are obsolete or dialect, or both, and can be ignored by all except specialists. For present-day students, the most important is likely to be 'a disorganised retreat': an occasion when an army, or unit, breaks and tries to run away. This can be used figuratively, as when a speaker in a debate is completely out-argued by an opponent. Such a speaker is said 'to be routed' (using the -ed participle of the verb 'to rout'. Two less important meanings of 'rout' may surface occasionally in some academic fields (for the rest, see OED):
    • a rout may be an assembly of people or animals, usually with some connotations of disorder: 'a riot', or 'riotous crowd'. In the eighteenth century, the name was adopted
    • as a fashionable slang term for a kind of party
See also an account of two agent nouns, router (and router).
AWE also has a page about a spelling mistake at En route - on route.
It is an etymological curiosity that the words route, rout (in the sense of 'disorderly retreat') and rout (in the sense of 'assembly') all have their origin in a Latin root, ruptus, meaning 'broken'.