Grammar

Why Do We Say Someone Will ‘Rue the Day’?

Very old expressions people rarely use can sometimes pop up and confuse readers. Here’s the story behind the phrase ‘rue the day.’

From time to time, readers encourage idioms that leave them scratching their heads. An idiom is a phrase whose true meaning may not necessarily be clear at face value. The phrase rue the day is an example of an idiom, although I might argue that if you know the meaning of rue, the face-value meaning isn’t that much of a mystery compared to other idioms.

The word rue has very old roots. It dates back to the Old English word hreowanthe Online Etymology Dictionary tells us. As a verb, it means to “make (someone) sorry, cause (someone) to grieve, distress, affect with regret.” As a noun, of course, it refers to feelings of sorrow or regret.

The Collins Dictionary puts it this way: “If you rue something that you have done, you are sorry that you did it, because it has had unpleasant results.”

So why would someone “rue the day” when it comes to a past action more than regretting having taken the action. That’s where the idiom part comes into play.

Charleston’s Post and Courier recently ran this headline: 2 SC co-workers rue the day they cheated a COVID loan program.

The Los Angeles Times ran a column with this headline: Column: The GOP may rue the day Roe was overturned.

You get the idea. You might ask why they wouldn’t just eliminate two words and use regret instead. That’s where the appeal of idioms enter the picture. They provide writers with a different way of saying things. If you understand the idiom, you understand those headlines.

Many believe William Shakespeare was the one who made the phrase rue the day popular. But he apparently never used that specific phrase. He used the phrases, Rue the tears, Rue the time and Rue the hour in his writings, but never specifically rue the day.

So if you’re looking for someone to blame, you may rue the day you publicly blame the Bard for it.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.