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The Independent Online

THERE'S nothing new about road rage - people have been going berserk on the highway for generations. What is new is the expression itself, and it's an apt diagnosis. is an old corruption of the Latin rabidus, which meant mad, applied to both dogs and humans; and road rage sufferers have lost their reason as well as their tempers. The American English mad ignores the distinction. But rage has changed over the centuries, its emphasis being now almost entirely on anger rather than on madness.

It used to be much wider. could be an admirable thing - rather like the fine frenzy which, according to Shakespeare, got poets going. Anything which involved a loss of control might be called a rage, whether it was the Muses, or the devil, or the weather gods (who made tempests rage) that had taken over. The breathing flute and sounding lyre, wrote Dryden, could swell the soul to rage. Chill penury repressed their noble rage, wrote Gray of the labourers of Stoke Poges. Politically motivated Eng Lit lecturers take the famous quote to mean that the peasants were too demoralised to rebel, but this is a flawed reading; Gray would have been against rick-burning.

Anyway, we do seem to be getting angrier these days. Shopping trolley rage is the latest development, prompting helpful articles by social behaviour specialists. And there was an alarming example of pavement rage the other day with the case of the tip-and-run invalid-chair driver. A recent headline in the Daily Record read: "Complaints roll in as rail rage rises", which was an abuse of the word: I'm sure most of the complainants were in their right minds. The correct word, as any tabloid journalist will tell you, was fury. The tempting alliteration led the Daily Record astray.

Nicholas Bagnall