Column: Raising Cain over rear


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

Cliff from Wilmington points out how I recently wrote that I was “raised in Oklahoma.”

First of all, thanks for not making some sort of joke about how Okies don’t know anything about grammar. After all, it’s a statewide mandate that all Oklahomans love our papaws and grammers (especially her synonym rolls). Cliff takes issue that I chose the word “raised” instead of “reared.” Let’s talk about raised and reared, shall we?

There’s an old grammar axiom that goes something like this: Animals are raised; humans are reared. This is based on the definition of “raise” as to grow or breed, while “rear” means something more like “taking care” of something and “assist something to maturity.” On paper, that makes sense. Case closed, right?

Not so fast! According to the AP Stylebook, “Only humans may be reared. All living things, including humans, may be raised.” That’s a horse of a slightly different color. It allows “raised” to be applied to humans. Is the AP Stylebook the judge, jury and executioner on the subject? Well, technically, it’s the standard for newspaper writing, so — yeah, kind of. But let’s let popular opinion be the jury, shall we?

I took a gander at Google’s Ngram Viewer, which shows word and phrase usage in books through time. When I searched both “rear children” and “raise children,” I came away with some fascinating findings. Yes, “rear children” was the more popular phrase back in the day (which I believe was a Tuesday, for those of you keeping score at home). However, around the mid-1960s, “raise children” overtakes “rear children,” and continues its steady march in popularity to the present day. At this point, to “raise children” appears about three times more frequently in books than to “rear children.”

So, it seems that “reared” in Oklahoma is probably the precisely correct term, although, according to the AP as well as the court of popular opinion, “raised” is the normal thing to say. Here’s where my subjective grammar gavel comes down: Use “reared” in a formal setting; use “raised” for informal use. To me, “reared” sounds like something that happens to your car when the guy behind you doesn’t stop in time. Just don’t raise hell or kick my rear if you happen to disagree.