"I say so strange a dreaminess did there then reign all over the ship and all over the sea, only broken by the intermittent dull sound of the sword, that it seemed as if this were the Loom of Time, and I myself were a shuttle mechanically weaving and weaving away at the Fates." – Hermann Melville, MOBY-DICK OR, THE WHALE.
- The morning following a big storm, a majestic calm often _____ .
- For the morning writing exercise, the professor always gave her students free _____.
- At the public meeting, several speakers had to be asked to _____ in their impulsive speech.
- The dictator’s _____ of terror lasted five years. He then handed over the _____ of power to his oldest son.
- With the lightest touch on the _____, the third rider into the ring controlled her horse perfectly, and that team of horse and rider ultimately _____ supreme in the dressage competition.
The spelling “reign” in this expression is an example of the triumph of folk etymology over origin. The expression to give free rein to is figurative. It means to give a person freedom to act on his own authority. It derives from an equestrian term:
free rein – a rein held loosely to allow a horse free motion; the freedom that this gives a horse. (OED)
The word rein derives from a word meaning “a bond, check” from a verb meaning “to hold back. It’s related to retain. The word reign derives from a Latin word for kingship. To reign means to exercise the power of a king. The sense of this “reign” has become conflated with the expression “to give free rein to.”
The confusion has become so complete that it’s beyond correction.