Webster 1913 isn't very precise about the mathematical meaning of root. A root is the x-value where a function or equation is zero. Hence, the square root of C is the root of a square in the form of y = x^2 - C, the cube root of C is the root of y = x^3 - C, and so on.

To root a computer is to crack that computer. To gain "root" or "superuser" access. Basically, it's when a cracker decides it'd be fun to gain unauthorzied access to your computer, and, depending on his mood and inclination, do anything from brag about it to format your entire hard drive.

In most commercial Unix systems, the home directory of the root, or superuser, account is the / directory -- the root of the filesystem tree. In most free Unix systems such as *BSD and GNU/Linux, however, the root user's homedir is /root. This can lead to a certain degree of confusion in an installation where some systems are running (for instance) Solaris and others Linux or BSD.

Though my opinion is certainly biased by my preference for Linux, I suggest that giving the superuser a distinct home directory is a good idea. The superuser, like any other account, accumulates dot files and other state. Placing this in a distinct directory makes it easier to back up, or to replicate from one system to another. More generally, files which belong to the system can be clearly separated from those which belong to the administrator.

room-temperature IQ = R = root mode

root n.

[Unix] 1. The superuser account (with user name `root') that ignores permission bits, user number 0 on a Unix system. The term avatar is also used. 2. The top node of the system directory structure; historically the home directory of the root user, but probably named after the root of an (inverted) tree. 3. By extension, the privileged system-maintenance login on any OS. See root mode, go root, see also wheel.

--The Jargon File version 4.3.1, ed. ESR, autonoded by rescdsk.

The root can be generally defined as the descending axis of a plant which serves to anchor the plant and to conduct water and minerals to the stem and leaves. Roots are also specially adapted for other purposes in several common plant species (see Modifications).

General description and appearance

As a plant begins its life cycle, the primary root is produced in the embryo. In gymnosperms and dicotyledons, this root becomes the taproot, which grows directly downwards and gives rise to lateral roots, which branch off the taproot. In monocotyledons, the primary root is shorter-lived, and is used to initially anchor the young plant to the ground. The root system, instead of dividing from a primary root, derives from the stem in a fibrous pattern. If you unearth a plant of each type, and clean the soil away from the roots, the taproot system looks like an inverted tree (where the taproot is the trunk), while the fibrous root system looks like a head of hair.

Roots can penetrate to great depths in some species, if the soil conditions permit. For example, mesquite roots have been found to penetrate up to 53 meters underground. In other circumstances, the root system may be constrained to very shallow depths. Pine trees growing on the Canadian shield may have roots that lie directly on the rocks' surface, and gather soil around them making their depth no more than 15 centimeters.

Morphology and physiology

The tip of a root is covered by a root cap, which is a small mass of cells in the general shape of a bowl. Its primary purpose is to protect the root as it penetrates deeper in to the soil. The root cap is covered by a slimy gel (the mucigel) which lubricates the tip of the root as it forces its way through the substrate. Immediately behind the root cap is the apical meristem, from which new cells are produced as the root grows.

Above the apical meristem are the regions of cell division and elongation, in which cells produced by the apical meristem divide rapidly to produce more length and increase the girth of the root. Beyond these two regions lies the region of maturation, at which the newly produced cells grow, mature and begin to perform their absorbing and transport functions. In this region, root hairs (tubular extentions of epidermal cells) are also produced. In most plants, the each root may have staggering numbers of root hairs: in one four-month old rye plant, there were approximately 14 billion root hairs, with a surface area of roughly 401 square meters. Root hairs die off as a section of root thickens and ages; root hairs are mostly confined to the youngest parts of a root.

The histology and morphology of the region of maturation, which comprises the majority of the root, is remarkably simple when compared with the stems and leaves. There are three tissue types in a mature root, from the outside in: the epidermis, the cortex and the vascular cylinder.

The outer part of a root is the epidermis. This layer of cells is, structurally, the simplest in the root. The epidermis of the younger parts of a root and the root hairs absorbs water and minerals. As a section of root ages, however, the absorbing function ceases and the epidermis toughens and thickens. At this point is plays a protective role only, shielding the root from mechanical damage.

The cortex of the root comprises the greatest volume of the root. The cells of the cortex store starches and sugars, but do not have any chloroplasts. In larger and longer-lived plants, this region is shed as the roots age, but in annual plants roots generally retain this region throughout the life of the root. The cells in the cortex are normally organized in a semi-haphazard manner, but in such a way as to leave air spaces between the cells. Tbese spaces are essential for the aeration of the root. Without these spaces, the cells of the root would be deprived of oxygen and would die rapidly. Despite these large and abundant air spaces, the cortical cells do touch one another, allowing water and mineral transport by diffusion between cells. They are also connected by plasmodesmata (little cytoplasmic bridges). As such, these cells are capable of rapidly transporting water and minerals from the epidermis to the central transport cells. The inner layer of the cortex, which is tightly packed and lacks air spaces, is called the endodermis. All materials to be transported from the roots to the stems and leaves must pass through this tightly packed wall of cells, and may do so through direct transport through cells walls or via plasmodesmata.

The inner core of the root is reserved for the transport cells, and is called the vascular cylinder. The vascular tissues in this cylinder are surrounded by the pericycle, which is used to produce the cork cambium, as the root ages, and lateral roots. Inside the pericycle lie the main transporting tissues, the primary xylem and phloem. As the root ages, secondary xylem and phloem are produced and a cork cambium forms.


Some plants never touch the soil, and thus their roots dangle in the air (these plants are called epiphytes). Their roots are very fine, and are occasionally photosynthetic. The flower pot plant (Dischidia rafflesiana) in particular has a fascinating body plan. Some of its leaves are formed like hollowed containers that collect debris and rainwater. Ant colonies live in these pots, and contribue nitrogen to the plant by defecating in these bowls. The roots are produced from the stem, in the node above the bowl, and grow into the bowl to absorb these minerals and water. In essence, it fertilizes and waters itself!

While all roots contain some storage cells (in the cortex, see above), some plants have specially modified root structures used to store great quantities of energy. Some common examples can be found on your dinner plate: the carrot, sweet potato, beet1. While externally similar in appearance, these swollen structures may be histologically quite different. For example, the beet aquires its girth through the production of extra cambium, around the original vascular cambium, while the carrot simply produces an overabundance of parynchemal cells in the cortex and the secondary xylem and phloem.

1Note that the potato, despite similarities in appearances with the carrot and beet, is not infact the result of modified root tissues. It is a tuber, a specially modified stem.

Composed with help from Raven, P. H., Evert, R. F. and S. E. Eichorn. (1992) Biology of Plants, 5th Ed. Worth Publishers.


A word playing host to a truly abundant array of meanings. Apart from the conventional definitions enumerated by the ever-diligent Webster 1913, there is a slang usage which is very pervasive in (at least) Australia and New Zealand.

It refers to sexual intercourse at its most selfish, base, physical and crass. As such, it can be used interchangeably with fuck in many contexts, but increasingly as fuck becomes more common, root seems to carry an even greater connotation of crudeness, and even contempt. It is at its most frequent in "bloke" conversation, as the testosterone-addled participants attempt to impress each other with their flippancy.

Like we needed another synonym for 'fuck' ...

As a personal aside, I really dislike this term, and I don't use it myself. It makes my lip curl just a little whenever I hear someone else use it in conversation. I guess I have too much respect for sex to denigrate it in this way. But, that doesn't mean I shouldn't root for the ages. So we now return you to your regularly scheduled node.

How to use it

the noun

The noun form is most commonly used with the indefinite article; "a root". This is very similar to the expression "a fuck", as it refers to a single instance of coitus. As in these examples:

  • I could really use a root right about now.
  • Nice shoes. Want a root?
  • So, did you get a root at that party on Friday?
  • She was just after a quick root, nothing serious.
Some other variations on the theme:
  • Yeah, he was a good kisser, but the root was shit. He was too pissed to get it up.
  • I heard he once got five roots in one week!

the verb

The verb form is typically transitive, although intransitive forms do occasionally make an appearance.

  • Did you see that chick? I'd root her for sure!
  • I wouldn't root him if he was the last guy on the planet.
  • Do you think she'd root me if I got her trashed?
  • I haven't been rooted properly in weeks.
  • He's so desperate, he'll root anything with a pulse.

Unlike the noun, the verb is not strictly limited to sexual meanings. There is a more general meaning which refers to taking advantage of someone, to their detriment. As in:

  • Last time I played Quake against Jim, he totally rooted me.
  • Two grand for that piece of shit? You got rooted, dude.

the adjective

Used as an adjective, rooted usually drops the sexual denotation, and refers more to the described entity being in a generally negative situation, or sometimes, a state of dysfunction, depletion or exhaustion. These uses can be seen as analogous to "screwed", "stuffed", "buggered" -- and note that those words also have alternate sexual meanings! As demonstrated below:

  • You left the roast in the oven too long, now the dinner's rooted!
  • This club is rooted; I haven't heard music this bad since 1992.
  • Better go home and get some rest, after a day like that you must be totally rooted.

some known extended forms

  • to root around is to be very promiscuous.
  • a root rat is a person who habitually roots around.


Sadly, information on the origin of this repugnant bit of language is scarce. However, it seems to me that the most likely path is from the conventional meanings of "root" which relate to digging or delving. If you consider the phrases "rooting around in the closet for some old photos", or "they attempted to root out the traitor", both involve going inside something, with a clear purpose. I think that's a narrow enough semantic gap for slang to cross with ease. Not that I'm claiming to be an expert or know what I'm talking about by any means.

There is also the existence of the word rut, which is most often used to talk about the mating habits of mammals which have some kind of recurrent mating season. "rut" derives from Late Latin rugire, "to roar", and was still translated as "to roar" as recently as Middle English rutte. At some point (because animals in heat presumably do a lot of roaring) the meaning shifted to describe the fact of being in heat itself. Since the only pronunciational difference between rut and root is a rather similar vowel sound, and the meaning of rut is already specifically sexual, it's not hard to imagine a connection.

Finally, there is a (admittedly somewhat flimsy) piece of evidence that hints at this particular use of "root" being alive and well in 16th century England. In Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor, scene I, we find the following:


Leave your prabbles, 'oman. What is the focative case, William?
O,--vocativo, O.
Remember, William; focative is caret.
And that's a good root.

Now, while it's difficult to be certain since he's not here to ask, it seems that Uncle Billy is making a few double entendres here. This passage consists of Sir Hugh Evans ignorantly drilling the young William Page on his Latin lessons, while Mistress Quickly makes inane comments in the background. caret is Latin for "is missing", or "is wanting", which Mistress Quickly has mistaken for "carrot", the root vegetable. Sir Hugh has mispronounced the vocative case "focative", which may well be intended as a pun on "fuck", and Mistress Quickly's comment "that's a good root" a not-so-veiled reference to it. Given Shakespeare's penchant for combining vulgar humour with clever word games, this does not seem at all implausible.

Thanks to La petite mort, ToasterLeavings and Taliesin's Muse for all the good roots ... um, I mean, uses of "root". Yeah. That's it.

Root (?), v. i. [AS. wrOtan; akin to wrOt a snout, trunk, D. wroeten to root, G. rüssel snout, trunk, proboscis, Icel. rOta to root, and perhaps to L. rodere to gnaw (E. rodent) or to E. root, n.]


To turn up the earth with the snout, as swine.


Hence, to seek for favor or advancement by low arts or groveling servility; to fawn servilely.


© Webster 1913

Root, v. t.

To turn up or to dig out with the snout; as, the swine roots the earth.


© Webster 1913

Root, n. [Icel. rOt (for vrOt); akin to E. wort, and perhaps to root to turn up the earth. See Wort.]

1. (Bot.)


The underground portion of a plant, whether a true root or a tuber, a bulb or rootstock, as in the potato, the onion, or the sweet flag.


The descending, and commonly branching, axis of a plant, increasing in length by growth at its extremity only, not divided into joints, leafless and without buds, and having for its offices to fix the plant in the earth, to supply it with moisture and soluble matters, and sometimes to serve as a reservoir of nutriment for future growth. A true root, however, may never reach the ground, but may be attached to a wall, etc., as in the ivy, or may hang loosely in the air, as in some epiphytic orchids.


An edible or esculent root, especially of such plants as produce a single root, as the beet, carrot, etc.; as, the root crop.


That which resembles a root in position or function, esp. as a source of nourishment or support; that from which anything proceeds as if by growth or development; as, the root of a tooth, a nail, a cancer, and the like. Specifically:


An ancestor or progenitor; and hence, an early race; a stem.

They were the roots out of which sprang two distinct people.


A primitive form of speech; one of the earliest terms employed in language; a word from which other words are formed; a radix, or radical.


The cause or occasion by which anything is brought about; the source. "She herself . . . is root of bounty." Chaucer.

The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.
1 Tim. vi. 10 (rev. Ver.)

(d) (Math.)

That factor of a quantity which when multiplied into itself will produce that quantity; thus, 3 is a root of 9, because 3 multiplied into itself produces 9; 3 is the cube root of 27.

(e) (Mus.)

The fundamental tone of any chord; the tone from whose harmonics, or overtones, a chord is composed. Busby.


The lowest place, position, or part. "Deep to the roots of hell." Milton. "The roots of the mountains." Southey.

4. (Astrol.)

The time which to reckon in making calculations.

When a root is of a birth yknowe [known].

Aërial roots. (Bot.)

(a) Small roots emitted from the stem of a plant in the open air, which, attaching themselves to the bark of trees, etc., serve to support the plant.
(b) Large roots growing from the stem, etc., which descend and establish themselves in the soil. See Illust. of Mangrove. --
Multiple primary root (Bot.), a name given to the numerous roots emitted from the radicle in many plants, as the squash. --
Primary root (Bot.), the central, first-formed, main root, from which the rootlets are given off. --
Root and branch, every part; wholly; completely; as, to destroy an error root and branch. --
Root-and-branch men, radical reformers; -- a designation applied to the English Independents (1641). See Citation under Radical, n., 2. --
Root barnacle (Zoöl.), one of the Rhizocephala. --
Root hair (Bot.), one of the slender, hairlike fibers found on the surface of fresh roots. They are prolongations of the superficial cells of the root into minute tubes. Gray. --
Root leaf (Bot.), a radical leaf. See Radical, a., 3 (b). --
Root louse (Zoöl.), any plant louse, or aphid, which lives on the roots of plants, as the Phylloxera of the grapevine. See Phylloxera. --
Root of an equation (Alg.), that value which, substituted for the unknown quantity in an equation, satisfies the equation. --
Root of a nail (Anat.), the part of a nail which is covered by the skin. --
Root of a tooth (Anat.), the part of a tooth contained in the socket and consisting of one or more fangs. --
Secondary roots (Bot.), roots emitted from any part of the plant above the radicle. --
To strike root, To take root, to send forth roots; to become fixed in the earth, etc., by a root; hence, in general, to become planted, fixed, or established; to increase and spread; as, an opinion takes root. "The bended twigs take root." Milton.


© Webster 1913

Root (rOOt), v. i. [imp. & p. p. Rooted; p. pr. & vb. n. Rooting.]


To fix the root; to enter the earth, as roots; to take root and begin to grow.

In deep grounds the weeds root deeper.


To be firmly fixed; to be established.

If any irregularity chanced to intervene and to cause misappehensions, he gave them not leave to root and fasten by concealment.
Bp. Fell.


© Webster 1913

Root, v. t.


To plant and fix deeply in the earth, or as in the earth; to implant firmly; hence, to make deep or radical; to establish; -- used chiefly in the participle; as, rooted trees or forests; rooted dislike.


To tear up by the root; to eradicate; to extirpate; -- with up, out, or away. "I will go root away the noisome weeds." Shak.

The Lord rooted them out of their land . . . and cast them into another land.
Deut. xxix. 28.


© Webster 1913

Root, v. i. [Cf. Rout to roar.]

To shout for, or otherwise noisly applaud or encourage, a contestant, as in sports; hence, to wish earnestly for the success of some one or the happening of some event, with the superstitious notion that this action may have efficacy; -- usually with for; as, the crowd rooted for the home team. [Slang or Cant, U. S.]


© Webster 1913

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