Meaning: 1. To regret, to feel sorry about. 2. To repent, to be penitent or do penitence for (now rare).
Notes: The adjective to today’s Good Word is rueful “penitent, regretful”, which comes with an adverb, ruefully, and a noun ruefullness. These forms bear witness to this word’s being an authentic English noun and not a borrowed one. Despite the fact that anyone nibbling the highly bitter semitoxic rue plant, the noun rue is unrelated to today’s verb.
In Play: Today’s Good Word delivers the same punch as regret but in a smaller, more sophisticated package: “Will Doolittle came to rue forgetting the street where his French girlfriend lived—Rue LaRue in Paris.” Ruefulness often stalks the workplace: “After five years with no raise or promotion, Clarence Sales began to rue the day he came to work for Hiram Cheep.”
Word History: Today’s Good Word, as mentioned above, is a genuine English word. It comes from Old English hreowan “make sorry, grieve”. The origin of that word is open to question, but the initial H on the Old English word suggests it comes from a Proto-Indo-European word beginning on KR. Russian has a word krushit’ “to shatter, crush” that may come from the same source. It clearly thrived among the Germanic languages, for German Reue “repentance” and Dutch rouwen “to mourn” are clearly cousins. The rue plant got its name from Latin ruta “rue”, which in turn came from Greek rhyte, at which point the historical trail comes to an abrupt halt.