roots run deep

roots run deep
also, roots that run deep

Meaning

  • similar in meaning to “deep-rooted.”
  • used to indicate that an attribute (of a person, institution, or other entity) has a rich and complex origin, which makes it stable and unlikely to change.
  • can be used to indicate the profound historical, social, or cultural influence on a person.
  • relatedly, it can be used to indicate that a quality or feature that seems to have been eliminated will likely reappear. (Analogous to how a weed will grow back unless it is removed by the root.)
  • in genealogical and familial contexts, it is often used to indicate that an interest, concern, or quality has been shared or developed over many generations.

Example Sentences

  1. His family has long been supported the monarchy; their royalist roots run deep.
  2. I thought I had successfully overcome my social anxiety, but its roots run deep, and I’ve found that it is, once again, becoming disruptive.
  3. The roots of racial prejudice run deep and often spring up in new and different ways.
  4. Many of the well-known rock musicians in the late twentieth century had gospel roots which ran deep.
  5. “The Church can never be overthrown. Its roots run deep into the nature of man, its rocky summits rise in indestructible strength, supported by the everlasting needs of the human soul.” (The Christian Examiner, July 1844, Article VI: Fourierism.)

Origin

The idiom “roots run deep” and variations on it are figuratively adapted from a literal horticultural description: some plants have deep roots or a deep taproot. These plants are often quite resilient and can survive droughts, inclement weather, and overharvesting by herbivores. In the early 19th century, the phrase was chiefly used in the literal sense, often appearing in agricultural publications and periodicals. For example, an 1859 report used the phrase in a straightforwardly descriptive sense:

“The radish-shaped roots run deep,” and “The roots run deep into the soil…” (Transactions of the NY State Agricultural Society for the Year 1859. Albany, NY: Charles Van Benthuysen, 1860, pp. 293 and 322).

While the literal phrase predominated, occasional references to the figurative idiom can be found in the mid- and late-nineteenth century. For example, Edward Cornelius Delavan wrote, “There are evils which admit of no sudden remedy. Let wrong once entrench itself, and come into alliance with appetite and interest, and hold sway long and universally, and the cure must be a work of time. Its evil roots run deep and far, and will be found living and germinant where little is suspected” (The Family Fire-side Book, 1853). In a sermon published in 1890 titled, “Joyful Through Hope,” William Reed Huntington applied the phrase in a metaphorical way, writing, “The Christian’s hope has this same evidence of vitality, this same guarantee of permanence. The roots run deep down into humanity itself. It is as old as we are.”

Prior to this time, the uses of similar phrases, such as “deeply rooted,” were much more common. In his 1651 book, Leviathan, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes referred to opinions as being “deeply rooted”:

“As for the Means, and Conduits, by which the people may receive this Instruction, wee are to search, by what means so may Opinions, contrary to the peace of Man-kind, upon weak and false Principles, have neverthelesse been so deeply rooted in them. I mean those, which I have in the precedent Chapter specified: as That men shall Judge of what is lawfull and unlawfull, not by the Law it selfe, but by their own private Judgements…”

Historically, the metaphorical meaning of these and similar phrases were evocative and effective since they drew upon ordinary experiences—specifically, those associated with horticultural and agricultural practices.

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