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Banner headline in this morning's Daily Pennsylvanian:

My first thought was that the word rehaul in the headline was a novel blend of overhaul with some amalgam of rehab, remodeling, repair, renewal, etc. But the OED tells us that rehaul as a substitute for overhaul has been around for a while:

1895 Belfast News-let. 27 June 3/3   The Ailsa [sc. a yacht] is now undergoing a rehaul in Messrs. A. & J. Inglis's yard.
1906 Salt Lake Tribune 23 June 7/3   The three courts at the club have been undergoing a rehaul and are now in first-class condition.
1985 Amer. Jrnl. Nursing 85 924/1   A coalition of 17 Ohio nursing groups goes for a top-to-bottom rehaul of the nurse practice act.
1995 Boston Globe (Nexis) 19 Oct. 61   Artisans and workers have spent the past seven weeks‥giving the 1,600-seat Boylston Street theater its first major rehaul.
2006 L. M. Alcoff Visible Identities 199   The complete elimination of gender would require a radical rehaul of biological reproduction.

For a slightly more recent citation in a major publication, see Ginia Bellafante, "The Return of ‘Jon & Kate’: Sub-Zero Days", NYT 8/4/2009:

Earlier this year, the Gosselins, who because of the show get seemingly everything for free, were offered a kitchen renovation for which they were asked to pay nothing. They proceed with it even though they won’t be sharing the range, maybe thinking that because renovations can lead to divorces anyway, you might as well do them when you’re already split up. Instead of just admitting the kitchen rehaul will add to their property value (presumably the couple still owns the house together), they file the need for it under the rubric that it will be best for the children, as if children reach their maximum potential in proximity to a Sub-Zero.

I'm pretty sure that I haven't encountered rehaul before. It's plausible that I haven't, since it doesn't occur in the 425 million words of the COCA corpus, and it occurs 195 times in the 155 billion words of the Google books corpus, suggesting a frequency of roughly one per billion words. Furthermore, the majority of the Google books hits seem to be references to lumbering devices called "rehaul skidders" and "rehaul lines", which are not really relevant in this context.

So my guess is that many if not most of the occasional appearances of rehaul = overhaul are in fact novel blends, created anew on each occasion. What makes this interesting is that it's not an example of standard English derivational morphology, but rather some kind of quasi-regular combination of the re- that means "back or again" with a version of -haul (from overhaul) interpreted as meaning something like "construct" or "build".


  1. Ginger Yellow said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 11:12 am

    Is it possibly a British vs American English thing? Or a (possibly mostly British) journalese thing? Rehaul seems perfectly normal to me as a British journalist, and a quick search of the Guardian website throws up nine results since 1999. The FT has three hits since 2007. That said, the BNC only gives one result.

  2. Coby Lubliner said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 11:22 am

    The OED also gives analogous instances of rehaul as a verb. I am especially intrigued by this entry:

    1927 Jrnl. Philos. 24 691 It would have been imperative for the author to rehaul and perhaps abandon the use of time as a fourth dimension.

    Would this be a critique of Einstein?

  3. HP said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 11:23 am

    I'm American (Great Lakes/Ohio Valley), and I'm reasonably certain that I have heard "rehaul" before, although I suspect more in speech than in writing. I really wasn't certain where you were going with this post, because the word didn't really strike me as remarkable or novel until you made your case.

    I'd dispute your contention that it's a novel blend in each case, but I've no idea how I'd go about showing that.

  4. Coby Lubliner said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 11:24 am

    Ginger Yellow: the OED says "Chiefly N. Amer."

  5. HP said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 11:31 am

    Another observation: Is it possible that "rehaul" is limited to non-mechanical contexts? IOW, engines are overhauled, policies are rehauled.

  6. Acilius said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 11:34 am

    I'm surprised it's so rare, I'd have thought it was very common. Just among my sort, I suppose.

  7. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 11:56 am

    This American doesn't remember encountering "rehaul" before. I'm not sure the OED is right about "chiefly N. Amer."

    @Coby Lubliner: You can see a little more of that passage on the fourth dimension by poking around at Google Books. J. W. Dunne is mentioned.

  8. Eric P Smith said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 12:29 pm

    "Rehaul" has been normal to me all my life (BrE), particularly in the phrase "major rehaul", which gets 838 (genuine) Google hits including this page. Like Acilius and Ginger Yellow, I’m surprised it’s rare, though I acknowledge that it evidently is. "Major rehaul" is a phrase I use myself, and in that context it (obviously!) isn’t created anew on each occasion, but plucked from my idiolect, though it may have been created anew on the occasion when I first heard it.

    It’s fascinating that readers’ reactions vary from "it’s very common” to "I’ve never heard it before." Perhaps it just has an uneven distribution.

  9. mgh said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 12:37 pm

    "rehaul" is normal to me (born and raised near Boston) usually as the collocation "due for a rehaul," or "overdue for a rehaul".

    To me it has a different shade than "overhaul", with rehaul changing a subset of features of a place or process, and overhaul changing almost every aspect of it.

  10. Brett said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 1:15 pm

    I have certainly heard it before, although probably not recently (in the deep South), nor when I was growing up in the Pacific Northwest. I may only have encountered it in the Boston area, but unlike mgh, I lived there only relatively briefly, so I never learned to recognize any subtle differences from "overhaul."

  11. Pflaumbaum said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 1:40 pm

    It gets one hit in the British corpus:

    "…an internal inquiry in 1989 into one police force recommended a radical rehaul in the way the force dealt with local crime."

    So that's a rate of one in a hundred million,.

  12. Ethan said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 1:43 pm

    Rehaul sounds perfectly ordinary to my ears. I grew up in Cleveland, so that's consistent with the geographical original both of the original citation and HP's comment above. A search on the web site of the Cleveland Plain Dealer gets 13 hits for news stories in the past couple of years, but many of those refer to a single public works project that seems to have acquired this sobriquet. Philadelphia Inquirer – 1 recent hit.Chicago Tribune – 17 hits (many attributed to the LA Times; I've no idea why these two papers seem to share an archive)

    Unfortunately most of the newspaper sites I tried limit the search to recent issues unless you have paid access. That makes it hard to use them as a check for regional use.

  13. Aaron Binns said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 1:45 pm

    It appears in The Onion corpus:

    My Life Would Make A Great Midseason Replacement Sitcom

    Or maybe they could take my show off the air for a few months and radically rehaul it so Maurice is the star.

  14. djw said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 2:47 pm

    I'm sure I heard it a lot growing up in Central Texas (my dad used it frequently, but he's been dead for 40 years). I don't know that I hear it much any more, but then, it's probably too normal for me to notice, anyway.

  15. Rick Sprague said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 3:31 pm

    When I first read the blog title and the headline (before I began reading the blog entry), it didn't strike me as novel, but as soon as I read the second sentence I felt certain that I'd never heard it before either. That suggests that it's new to me, but that it's so transparent that I didn't recognize it as such. I think that argues for its recurrent reinvention as an inadvertent blend–except that so many people claim it's in their idiolect.

    If it's so semantically transparent, I wonder if it might be that it's an unusually easily primed speech error that occurs from time to time, but that many don't note its novelty at all, while others (possibly those for whom 'overhaul' is not yet well established) adopt it into their idiolect and pass it on to their children. Such a combination of features could lead to it developing vertically in familiolects without spreading horizontally into regions, leading to scattered pockets of users who consider it standard while most of us find it novel. This is pure speculation of course, but it prompts the question: Has such a phenomenon ever been noticed before?

  16. meesher said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 3:45 pm

    Google news archives return 1,060 hits, including a 1954 St Petersburg Times article titled "Ike Calls For Rehaul" that switches to "overhauling" when quoting Eisenhower in the second paragraph. Seems to be very much a newspaper/headlinese word.

  17. Lauren Commons said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 3:57 pm

    I assumed the big news was about me, since my name appears so prominently in the headline.

  18. Ralph Hickok said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 3:58 pm

    I've occasionally heard it from fishermen here in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Very occasionally, I should note–maybe 12 or 15 times in nearly 50 years.

  19. Mark Mandel said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 4:23 pm

    I saw that headline in the paper earlier today (in the newspaper box — I walked past without picking one up) and didn't even think about it. But I don't recall ever hearing or seeing it before, either. (Grew up in and near NYC, have lived in Berkeley, eastern Mass., and now Philadelphia.)

    I wonder idly if an unconscious association with "rehab" has something to do with it. Google claims "about 74,000 results" for /"building rehab"/, but as usual the claim proves to be vastly inflated: with "hits per page" set to 100, the last page ends:
    In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the 880 already displayed.

  20. Eric P Smith said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 5:10 pm

    @Rick Sprague: I find your proposed explanation a fascinating one with the ring of truth.

  21. mollymooly said,

    March 31, 2012 @ 3:34 am

    a novel blend of overhaul with some amalgam of rehab, remodeling, repair, renewal, etc.

    Nouns "revamp" and "retread" have the same stress as "rehaul", at least as I pronounce the word. Not that I am sure I have ever said or thought it; I join the ranks of those who did not notice anything remarkable in the headline but can't definitely recall having encountered the word.

    @Pflaumbaum: BNC also has one hit for "re-haul".

  22. linda seebach said,

    March 31, 2012 @ 9:59 am

    @Ethan, who said, "Chicago Tribune – 17 hits (many attributed to the LA Times; I've no idea why these two papers seem to share an archive)." In cities with two competing papers, it was common for one to gain a contract with the New York Times News Service, leaving the other to pick up the news service jointly operated by the LA Times and the Washington Post (now dissolved). The NYTimes was reluctant to contract with two competing papers, or so I've been told, although in Denver where I worked at the Rocky Mountain News, both it and the Denver Post used the NYT service. Whether this explains the Chicago situation in particular, I do not know.

  23. Rod Johnson said,

    March 31, 2012 @ 11:31 am

    Now I'm curious about revamp , which etymologically seems to mean "furnish with a (new) vamp," a vamp being the front part of a shoe. But why would that particular obscurity flourish?

  24. Mr Punch said,

    March 31, 2012 @ 1:40 pm

    The [Chicago] Tribune Company now owns the LA Times. I'm from the Boston area and wasn't aware of "rehaul."

  25. Yakusa Cobb said,

    March 31, 2012 @ 1:47 pm

    As a BrE speaker, I stared at the headline for a few minutes in an attempt to find an eggcorn that wasn't immediately obvious to me. The only part that I didn't understand was 'Commons'. 'Rehaul' just didn't grab me: it's standard headlinese where I come from, especially (as noted above) when collocated with 'major'.
    But what was this 'Commons' thing? Surely, in Pennsylvania, they don't have a House of Commons (and by implication a House of Lords) like my native country?
    An online/offline dictionary search was initially of no help: neither Collins nor Chambers provided any clue.
    It was only when I resorted to wicktionary that I found a definition that seems to apply:

    A dining hall, usually at a college or university.

    So thanks, I've learnt another Americanism, as well as discovering that a word that I take for granted is evidently a Britishism.

  26. Pharmamom said,

    March 31, 2012 @ 3:36 pm

    Rehaul is more comfortable to my ears than overhaul. I'm a Hoosier, with a decade spent in North Carolina. It has policy connotations to me. And like a previous commenter, I mark a rehaul as being less comprehensive than an overhaul.

  27. Mar Rojo said,

    April 2, 2012 @ 4:03 am

    I'd like it in "he's going to rehaul me over the coals". ;-)

  28. AlexB said,

    April 2, 2012 @ 4:04 am

    For me, it was clear what a rehaul was. What puzzled me was how dining would help the commons to face it.

  29. woozled said,

    October 21, 2012 @ 10:42 pm

    I didn't realize until I typed "rehaul" just now and spellcheck underlined it that it was anything other than a perfectly acceptable, standard word! I'm from Iowa, USA and I just thought of it as a synonym for overhaul.

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