Q&A: Raise vs raze

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week the word ‘raze' raises a few questions for us…

Q: Hi AWC, I found the mailbag and there’s one here from Russell.

A: Hi Russell.

Q: He would like us to look at the difference between “raise” and “raze” and finds it interesting as one is something going up and the other something going down.

A: Hey Russell, we make the jokes around here.

Q: Anyway, he’s curious as to how homophones came to mean exactly the opposite!

A: Fair enough. Well, let’s start with “raise” – which Macquarie Dictionary defines as a verb with no fewer than 39 separate meanings.

Q: Wow, that’s quite a few.

A: The main one of course is “to move to a higher position; lift up; elevate”. So you might raise your hand, raise taxes or raise the level of the oceans due to global warming.

Q: Wow, that turned dark quickly.

A: Most of the meanings relate to some kind of increase, such as to raise in a game of poker. Although one notable exception is “to raise children”.

Q: Some might argue that results in increased stress.

A: Yes, but also increased capacity for love…

Q: A decreased bank balance…

A: Anyway, the origin of the word “raise” is very old, dated back to around 1200 from Old Norse “reisa” and the Proto-Germanic word “raizijanau” – the latter that also gave us the verb “rear”.

Q: Like how a horse rears on its hind legs?

A: Exactly. You’ll find both words interchangeable in “rear/raise its (ugly) head” and curiously, by the 1400s, both “raise” and “rear” were used in conjunction with “raising children” or “rearing children”.

Q: Okay, so we’ve established that “raise” and “rear” are related. But I’m not sure Russell will be satisfied…

A: True. Let’s take a look at “raze”.

Q: Yes, I have a burning desire to do so. Hahaha.

A: You’ve been waiting a while to say that, haven’t you?

Q: Maybe.

A: Anyway, returning to Macquarie, “raze” means “to tear down, demolish, or level to the ground”.

Q: Wait, no mention of fire?

A: Nope. Obviously to “raze a building to the ground” is often in a fire context, but it actually isn’t part of the definition. It’s simply to destroy something completely (typically a building, town etc).

Q: So a tornado could raze a town to the ground?

A: Correct.

Q: It does seem like I’d reserve “raze” for fire.

A: And that’s okay. But just know it’s not exclusively flame-grilled.

Q: Interesting. So, origin story?

A: “Raze” has a completely different lineage to “raise” – not arriving until the 16th century, as a variation of now-defunct “racen/rasen” meaning “pull or knock down”. That was in turn from Latin “rasere” meaning “to scrape, shave”.

Q: Ooooooh, so that’s where we get “razor” from?

A: That’s right. See, sometimes English rewards us with logic.

Q: So I see a lot of people say that something was “raised to the ground”. This is incorrect, yes?

A: Totally incorrect. As we’ve established, you would raze it to the ground.

Q: Well, that was a great topic to raze, Russell!

A: Wait, we think you mean a great topic to raise.

Q: But we totally destroyed it!

A: Um, no.

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!


Browse posts by category
Browse posts by category

Courses starting soon


Nice one! You've added this to your cart