Question: I have a boss who keeps encouraging us to exercise self-control. He has several times written on the board: "Reign in your impulses." When someone (not me) questioned his spelling, he insisted repeatedly that he was correct. Is this an acceptable usage of the word "reign" over "rein"?Answer: The triumph of the automobile is revealed in our loss of awareness of words associated with the horse. "Rein" is a case in point. Once an everyday household word, it has been driven into relative obscurity by the automobile. Horse-lovers still know it, of course, as do jockeys and enthusiasts of horse racing and dressage. Several idiomatic expressions with "rein" continue in general use, but since the word is not nearly as common as it once was, writers and keyboarders tend to confuse it with its homophone "reign."

Your dictionary can help you determine which homophone you want to use. The verb "rein," which developed out of the noun "rein," means in its transitive uses, "to control or direct with or as if with reins" or "to check or stop by or as if by a pull at the reins." "Reins," of course, are the straps by which a rider or driver controls a horse or other animal. "Rein" derives from the Latin verb "re-tin-ere," meaning "to restrain." The verb "reign," which likewise is derived from its noun counterpart "reign," is an intransitive verb meaning "to possess or exercise sovereign power or hold a sovereign office," "to exercise authority in the manner of a monarch," or "to be predominant or prevalent."

A review of these meanings leads to the conclusion that your boss means to use "rein." In asking you to "rein in your impulses," he is figuratively requesting that you restrain your impulses by pulling in at the reins by which you control them.

Question: Everyone knows that a charley horse is a painful muscular ailment. But how did the muscular problem get its name?

Answer: For years, the origin of this term has been awash in a sea of controversy. Many investigators have delved into the past to try to uncover the identity of "Charley" in "charley horse," only to come up empty. Nevertheless, several explanations have been proposed, most of which involve the sport of baseball.

One popular theory is that the name for a strained leg muscle was inspired by old-time baseball pitcher Charley Esper, who limped like a lame horse. Unfortunately this explanation is shot down by the fact that Esper came into the game several years after the 1888 publication of the work containing the earliest known use of the term.

A similar theory holds that "Charley" was not a person at all but a horse who in the 1880s pulled a roller to smooth the dirt on the baseball infield. Charley Horse, as he was named by the players, walked with a severe limp. Players with stiff leg muscles limped the same way and were dubbed "Charley Horse" after their equine friend.

Perhaps closest to the truth is the more general explanation that identifies "Charley Horse" as a name once typically given to workhorses who were old and lame. Baseball players with knotted muscles were nicknamed "Charley Horse" because they limped like a lame horse. Eventually, the term came to denote the ailment itself.

Question: I've never understood the expression "through a glass, darkly." Can you tell me what this means, and where it comes from?

Answer: "Through a glass, darkly" was St. Paul's metaphoric description of the state of man's unclear understanding of things. In a letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote: "For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (1 Corinthians 12).