Which Word Wednesday: Regime vs. Regimen

By August 18, 2010 culture, language No Comments

Welcome to the first installment of Which Word Wednesday, in which we explore word meanings and usage.

Today’s word quandary is a battle between regime and regimen. A friend of mine submitted this example after twice hearing celebrities state something like this:

I have a strict exercise and diet regime.

My friend wondered if the use of regime to describe an exercise and diet plan was correct. She had always associated regime to a strict form of government, such as a dictatorship. Seeing as exercise is more of a personal choice and not one that is enforced by law, my friend thought that regimen would be the better choice. A quick Web search found that regime is often associated with health and beauty treatments—see here and here.

So is it correct to use regime to describe anything other than a government? Well, as with many language quandaries, correctness all depends on the source you turn to.

The Oxford American Dictionary provides the following entries for regime and regimen:

Regime :: noun
1 a government, esp. an authoritarian one.
2 a system or planned way of doing things, esp. one imposed from above : detention centers with a very tough physical regime.

Regimen :: noun
1 a prescribed course of medical treatment, way of life, or diet for the promotion or restoration of health.
2 ARCHAIC a system of government.

Interestingly enough, Webster’s makes regime and regimen synonymous; I have found Webster’s to be more lenient in word usage, however. It seems be a guide for how words are being used rather than how words ought to be used. So I’m inclined to lean upon OAD. Here’s my reasoning:

Although people under a strict exercise plan might feel oppressed, it is unlikely that they are being forced to submit to it by the government. However, anyone who has lived under the oppression of an authoritarian government would never call it merely a regimen.

[polldaddy poll=3638491]

My verdict in this WWW: Regime and regimen are not interchangeable. Use regime to describe a system of government and regimen to describe your New Year’s resolution.

What’s your verdict? Chime in using the poll and share your thoughts in the comments. (But only if you want to. This isn’t a regime.)

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