What’s the difference between a router and a rooter?

by Mark Gwynn

My daughter was recently helping me set up our new WiFi computing system at home by reading the instruction manual – something, to my detriment, I rarely do. As she was reading she mentioned something about a rooter which immediately made me smile, because I knew she was talking about the router we were trying to connect to the computer. The funny thing was that my daughter was neither aware of the Australian connotation of rooter nor the pronunciation of ‘router’.

A router is a device that sends information from one part of a computer network to another. They have been around for some time but are now more commonly encountered in the household where there may be several computers all linked to the Internet.

In colloquial Australian English a rooter is someone who is sexually promiscuous and to root is to have sexual intercourse.

The word ‘router’ is derived from ‘route’ meaning ‘a way of getting from one place to another’. In Australian English we would generally pronounce ‘route’ to rhyme with ‘boot’. In American English ‘route’ rhymes with ‘doubt’. So an Australian English speaker who has never encountered the word ‘router’ may indeed pronounce it to rhyme with ‘hooter’.

At the Centre we would be interested to know if the US pronunciation of ‘route’ is becoming more common in Australia. It would also be interesting to know if the colloquial senses of rooter and root are dying out in Australian English. See our draft entries for root and rooter below.

18 thoughts on “What’s the difference between a router and a rooter?

  1. Not all Yanks talk the same, you know! I was born in 1958 and come from just outside the isogloss bundle that defines the New York City accent (which unlike other city accents has never spread beyond a tiny bit of its hinterland). I use the MOUTH vowel in route, router, routing only when I am talking about computer networks. For all other uses, the GOOSE lexical set prevails, just as in most of Anglophonia.

    What’s more, as far as I know nobody sings the 1946 song “Get Your Kicks On Route 66” with the MOUTH vowel. (Route 66 was a former highway route from Chicago to Los Angeles, still remembered with great nostalgia although it has been mostly defunct since 1985.)

    • Thanks for this feedback John. Yes you are right about different pronunciations of ‘route’ in the US – and you are certainly in a position to know firsthand. This raises questions about Australian perceptions of US pronunciations and of the attribution of ‘US’ pronunciations in dictionaries outside of the US. Listening to Chuck Berry I can understand why this topic needs to be raised. I would be very interested to know what the ‘dominant’ pronunciation of ‘route’ is in the US or if indeed there is a dominant pronunciation. Thanks again for your feedback!

      • On U.S. reactions to Australian English, I thought of this joke (I’m not sure who I heard it from, unfortunately):

        An Australian is eating dinner in an American restaurant. He wants his coffee at the end of the meal. Unfortunately, it keeps coming back to the table with more cream in it….

  2. As a Mercan, I can attest that the two pronunciations of “route” seem pretty evenly divided.

    Is it possible that the Strine colloquialism “root” has its origin in “rut”?

    • Thanks for that Mudge,

      Your suggestion of ‘rut’ as an origin for the Australian sense of ‘root’ is worth considering. The sense of ‘rut’ meaning ‘(of a person) to have sexual intercourse’ is first recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary from 1637 but considered rare until the 20th century. The Ozzie sense of root is much more likely to derive from other senses of root than from another word with a different vowel sound. But as you can see we still label the origin of this word as ‘uncertain’ so we’ll take note of your suggestion for future drafts.

  3. “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” was the first thing that came to my mind too. I also agree with John Cowan about the computer network pronunciation, /raʊt/. I differ though in that I would only use the song pronunciation, /ru:t/, when referring to a specific, named route; if I was asking about a route in general (e.g., Which route should we take?), I would say /raʊt/.
    -Lifelong Michigander, born in the 60s

  4. I am from South Australia and also lived in Canberra between the mid 80s and mid 90s. I have never heard ‘rooter’ used to describe someone who is sexually promiscuous but certainly people still ‘root each other’, are ‘rooting other’ and have had ‘a root’. People also are ‘rooted’ as in tired, aka ‘fucked’.

    • Yes you don’t hear or see ‘rooter’ much these days. ‘Rooted’ as in tired is still very common, as is ‘root’ (to have sex).

  5. I worked as a tram conductor at Rozelle Depot in Sydney for a few months in late 1956/early 1957 and noticed that while the conductors and drivers all pronounced ‘route’ to rhyme with BOOT, the conductresses all rhymed it with OUT, clearly to avoid leaving an opening for the men to make any jokes of a sexual nature at their expense.

    • Well spotted Piers. I think it’s time we got funding to do a major study of pronunciation in Aussie English. Would like to know if there’s any such study going on at the moment.

  6. To access the shell of an Android phone it needs to be rooted. The hilarity arises when asked if you have “rooted your phone?” ie. Do you have “root” access, but some may think that it’s broken, as in “rooted”.

    Of late I have seen these http://www.ofmodemsandmen.com/index.html (Aussies?) and their firmware.

    Tongue in cheek “A router flashed with this firmware is known as a ‘ROOter’.”
    with a dash of double entendre.

  7. I have been grimacing at this “ow” pronunciation of route in the context of router, something which routes data traffic for some years, at least as far back as 2000 when working for Telstra. It seems that with the advent of digital communications there has been a steady uptake of Americanisms across the board, including the massive use of acronyms (Telstra techs used to have a list of TLAs- three letter acronyms). Steadily since then everyone and their smallest child now talks of ‘rowters’ and following a ‘rowt’ to somewhere or other, which annoys me because there is another word rout, meaning to utterly defeat, and router, a power tool.
    These are both ‘rowt’. It’s always been ‘root’ 66 as far as I’m concerned, and it may have an odd sound for Australians of a certain age, but a router (if it isn’t carving wood) directs data on a particular course, or route.
    I like the fact that the need to have root access has now thrown a cat among the IT pigeons.

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