Regime change

The spoken word is different from the written word. When we are speaking, we only have the “editor” in our heads to assist us. We all make mistakes and say things we regret.

Preparation, of course, can help us prevent these spoken errors. A word mixup by a member of Congress at a hearing, for example, is less forgivable than one in a phone conversation. Politicians are supposed to be eloquent and prepared. They have speechwriters, consultants and interns at their beck and call to reduce the chance that they will slip up.

That brings us to Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina. She was on the House panel this week that questioned pitcher Roger Clemens about steroids. In fawning remarks that drew criticism from ESPN and others, Foxx asked Clemens:

Mr. Clemens, maybe you’d like to talk about your regime and how hard you work?

The word Foxx wanted was “regimen.” Here’s a typical definition:

A regimen is a plan, a regulated course such as a diet, exercise or treatment, designed to give a good result.

A regime can be lots of things. It usually refers to an authoritarian government, not exercise. In the age of “regime change,” is it too much to ask our leaders to know the difference?

UPDATE: As reflected in the comments to this post, some people don’t agree with me on this one. Similar disagreements have come up in discussions of “sanction” and “rumor.”

I decided to take “regime” and “regimen” to the AP’s Ask the Stylebook site. Here’s the response: “Regimen normally describes a course of treatment or a period of training or schooling. Regime is a synonym for a political system.”



  1. I hate to be in a position to defend Rep. Foxx, you’re too much of a stickler here.

    The term “exercise regime” has been accepted by a number of standard English language reference texts for years.

    The term is used widely in the United Kingdom, where apparently people allow others to use regime and regimen interchangably to mean “a regular pattern of exercise or activity.”

    exercise. Roget’s New Millennium™ Thesaurus, First Edition (v 1.3.1). Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. (accessed: February 15, 2008).

  2. In that thesaurus link, be sure to read all the entries, particularly the one near their end, labeled “aerobic.”
    There, you’ll see clear reference to “exercise regime.”

  3. Here are some references to standard English dictionaries that define “regime” as “a regulated system, as of diet and exercise; a regimen.”

    All of these are listed definitions for the word “regime:”

    -“a regulated system, as of diet and exercise; a regimen”
    The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language
    —Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 15 Feb. 2008.

    -“A regulated system, as of diet and exercise; a regimen.”
    The American Heritage® Stedman’s Medical Dictionary.
    —Houghton Mifflin Company. 15 Feb. 2008.

    -“The word regime (occasionally spelled “régime”, particularly in older texts) refers to a set of conditions, most often of a political nature. However, it may also be used synonymously, for example in the phrases “exercise regime” or “medical regime.”
    Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. via

    -“1a. Regimen”
    Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary
    (Note: In this dictionary, the fifth definition is “a form of government.”)

    -“3a. A regimen.”
    The Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

    I believe these citations prove that your original blog post is in error regarding how the word “regime” is “usually defined.”

  4. Thanks, Anonymous. I’ll stick with the post as is.

    I am aware that some dictionaries include the definitions that you cite. But others, particularly in the United States, do not. My copy of Webster’s New World Dictionary is one of those that does not.

    Also, keep in mind that the dictionary and thesaurus are descriptive resources, not prescriptive. (And the thesaurus isn’t known for its precision.) The AP Stylebook, which is prescriptive, has no regime/regimen entry to guide us, but maybe it should.

    For all that, I’ll admit to some stickling here. Foxx’s choice of words isn’t ideal, but it’s not as bad as misspelling “governor” as “governer” when you’re running for governor.

  5. I gotta agree with the prof here. Using “regime” in this way is odd.

    I checked a couple of dictionaries, and the top listings have nothing to do with exercise. For example:
    1. a mode or system of rule or government: a dictatorial regime.
    2. a ruling or prevailing system.
    3. a government in power.
    4. the period during which a particular government or ruling system is in power.

  6. You agree that some dictionaries cite “regime” as a synonym for regimen.
    You note that “but others … do not.”
    So, are you saying when there are appears to be a diversity of opinion on word usage, you always win?
    I would think that when some dictionaries cite the usage and others do not, the matter of usage is open, not closed.

    A logical, and a generous mind, would allow for such a usage if but one reputable source agreed.

    I have provided you with five.

  7. I don’t mean to dominate the conversation here, but there is an important point here.

    As a scientist friend of my is fond of saying to me, “Where is your data?”

    Are you saying that if it isn’t in the Webster’s New World, it ain’t English, even if other publishers agree.

    And if dictionaries are not any sources of authority, than what is?

    What is the non-dictionary, prescriptive source of authority you used in making your original assertion that regime “usually refers” to government, and your subsequent implication that it never refers to a exersize?

    Additonally, if the AP Stylebook is prescriptive, are you saying that people are expected to speak in AP style?

    That’s what we have here, Foxx speaking.

    So, then, what source, other than your own ear for usage, provides the authority for your statement on how regime is typically used?

    And, how does that authority trump my five citations such that the usage of regime as a synonym for regimen is never allowed?

  8. After doing a Lexis/Nexis search, I’ve come to this conclusion:

    Regime, in newspapers, magazines scholarly articles, and in academic, journalistic and governmental speech, usually refers to some sort of governmental structure.

    Regime, in medical publications, both academic and popular — as well as in common speech — means a program of exercise or medical treatment.

    You are right for what you do.

    Foxx was right for what she did.

  9. Anonymous,

    This really seems to bother you, huh?

    The data disagree. That happens.

    I prefer precision and clarity. All I am saying is that this is not the best choice of words. “Regimen” is a better match for what Foxx means to ask, especially in the era of “regime change.” The words are similar but not identical in today’s usage.

    That’s my prescription. Others agree, given that I am not the only one making this point. (Google can help you here.) You are free to accept, ignore or dispute this prescription.

    I do not expect people to speak in AP style. I don’t do so myself. That’s why I introduced the topic the way I did.

    Foxx and others like her have the resources to carefully prepare and phrase questions in a public setting. That’s why I found her use of “regime” noteworthy.

    I’ll ask the Ask the Stylebook site to see whether AP has a prescription for this. If the editors there have advice on it, I will post about it.

    Thanks again for the comments. It’s heartening to be reminded that people care about words.

  10. Professor,

    Perhaps Foxx-y lady mis-remembers the difference between pumping iron, a regimen, and pumping bullets into innocent civilians, a nasty regime practice. Of course, she may have had the vapors, what with all the excess testosterone wafting (or waffling?) off the studly mound ace. Wait, steroids (HGH excluded) tends to shrink the testicles (popscicles?), so perhaps the wiffing (not whiffing?)snorted up by the congresswoman was the stink of the lies(not to be confused with lays or even lain or lielayain)the now ex-future hall-of-famer spouted (sprouted?) from his pie-hole (insert hole joke here). Of course, the GOP often likes nasty regimes; I’m just saying. (Yes, a semi-colon, forgive me Kurt.)

  11. A word mix up (mixup?) by a member of Congress at a hearing, for example, is less forgivable than one in a phone conversation, but more so than in writing. Regime is correct and adequate to describe your usual practice of exercise, as opposed to a rigorously followed plan, or regimen. Cut her some slack, here. Her usage was more precise than your “mixup”, and in a less formal context. Oh, and she saved a syllable.

  12. Hi, Andy: Hate to be late to the party, but “regime” in the sense of an exercise regimen has the older cite in the OED. And “regimen,” meaning a kind of government, predates both.

  13. I’m certainly relieved that someone finally checked the OED. For years “Webster” products have said “imply” and “infer” are the same, so it’s hard to take them seriously as authority.

  14. I agree with the Professor. However, Anonymous will triumph in the end. I spoke to a friend who has a Masters in Library Science, as well as a dictionary jones, and he said that he couldn’t tell me which of modern dictionaries were prescriptive. He said that most had lapsed slowly into descriptiveness over the last few generations. Which is the path of least resistence. Why should I care if members of the broadcast media utter nonsensical words like “irregardless” and phrases like “I spoke to he yesterday” without a blush. I don’t know, but I do. So treat regime and regimen as synonyms. 99% of the population doesn’t know that there is a difference anyway, so there’s really little risk of being called on it. Just know that if I hear you I’ll be rolling my eyes and grinding my teeth. I’m sure that’s reason enough for you to keep doing it.

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