• To set something right
  • To dress again
  • To redecorate a film set


  • The act or process of making something right
  • The act or product of redecorating a film set


Imagine you are a bridal tailor who has just finished the final alterations on a wedding gown. When the bride tries it on she becomes furious! The dress doesn't fit right or look at all like she wanted. She feels like you didn't listen to her at all (and maybe you didn't). How will you make it right? You have to redress the bride to redress the issue.

The word redress can be rather straight forward, but it also carries very specific connotations. It is used almost exclusively in the context of fixing something that has gone wrong. From a book falling off a shelf to a violent and offensive outburst, to redress is to make it right—set the book back on the shelf, or apologize or pay the punitive damages. Commonly, redress implies emotional damage from some wrongful act that must be remedied, so it is often used in socio-political contexts where someone is being taken advantage of or mistreated.

In its simplest form redress means exactly what it looks like: "dress again." In this sense, it is often used in the film and theater industries where the decorations on a set are called "dressing." So, when a set needs new decorations, the crew or stagehands will redress it—meaning they will redecorate it.

Example: Airport security had to redress a minority community for repeatedly singling out its members for security searches.

Example: The League of Women Voters called for redress from the senator for slandering its members in his campaign.

Example: "Why did you change out of your uniform?" asked the coach. "You'll have to redress and get back in there!"

Example: It is much easier for a studio to redress a set than to build a new one.

Example: The redress was so seamless that you couldn't even tell it was the same set!


Redress carried over quite easily from the Old French redrescier, through the Anglo-Norman redresser and the Middle English redressen, arriving in its current form around the 14th century. It has maintained the same meaning the whole time: re- ("again") dress ("straighten, arrange").

The modern English word dress is derived from the same Old French word drescier. It has its ultimate roots in the Latin combination dis- regere ("to lead straight"), and it shares this origin with the English words direct and right. So, dress has actually always been about making things correct. It is only relatively recently that common usage put the emphasis on what we wear. That is why redress is only rarely used to mean putting on fresh clothes.

Derivative Words

Redressive: This is the adjective form of the verb redress, and it describes someone or something that tends to make the action of redressing.

Example: Martin Luther King Jr.'s socio-political stance was highly redressive for minority rights.

Redressable, Redressible: These two adjectives are interchangeable; however, redressable is the more common spelling. They both describe something as having the capacity to be redressed.

Example: The dictator's actions were so grievous that they may not be redressable.

Redressal, Redressment: These two words refer to the act of making something right. Although they are synonymous with the primary noun form of redress, they utilize nounal suffixes to take more obviously noun forms.

Example: The governor was applauded for his redressal of the issue.

Example: The people don't always understand that redressment will take time.

Similar Words

Repair is very similar to redress. Both words begin with the prefix re-, meaning "again," but rarely utilize it in their definitions. They both refer to setting things in order, too; but the real difference is that repair usually implies fixing a physical issue, while redress implies fixing an emotional or social problem.

Address is another word which overlaps with redress. It's not surprising considering they have similar origins and usages. Like redress, address begins with a Latin prefix; but, instead of meaning "back" or "again" like re-, ad- means "to." So address implies arranging something according to something else, and it usually carries the connotation of speaking. In other words, to address an issue would be to explain it to someone (and perhaps finding a solution in the process), but to redress the issue would be to fix it.

Literary Reference

From Seamus Heaney's The Redress of Poetry:

Indeed her whole book is informed by the idea of counterweighting, of balancing out the forces, of redress—tilting the scales of reality towards some transcendent equilibrium.

In this passage redress refers to the act of making something right (with the original connotation of correcting it). In Heaney's title, however, redress works in a few different ways: it simultaneously means that poetry is making something right, that poetry itself is being made right, and that poetry is being redecorated like a film set.

From Charles Dickens' Barnaby Rudge:

But we must redress our own grievances, we must meet again, we must put our trust in Providence, and it will bless our endeavors.

Here redress implies addressing something that seems unfair.

From Lucien Gregoire's Murder in the Vatican:

If he had been in his bedclothes, he would have had to have been redressed in his daytime clothes.

Gregoire uses redressed to describe a hypothetical wardrobe change for the recently deceased.


  • Redress addresses unfair messes.


Redress is a very important part of the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the US Constitution. In fact, it is one of the tenets of the First Amendment.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

This amendment provides for the right of US citizens to peacefully speak up to the government about anything they feel needs to be legally addressed. In this context, redress demands a broad interpretation—a general act of correcting something.

Redress is similarly important in the original draft of Magna Carta, the proclamation of rights and liberties for the Church of England and the English people as set out by King John and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Magna Carta set the foundation for English parliament and influenced the drafters of the US Constitution.

"If we, our chief justice, our officials, or any of our servants offend in any respect against any man, or transgress any of the articles of the peace or of this security, and the offence is made known to four of the said twenty-five barons, they shall come to us — or in our absence from the kingdom to the chief justice — to declare it and claim immediate redress. […] Having secured the redress, they may then resume their normal obedience to us."

King John used redress to mean the process of setting something right. However, Magna Carta was mostly just a political boast and not much redress was actually offered.


Sociology, Politics, Film, Theater, Theatre, First Amendment, Magna Carta

Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of redress. Did you use redress in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.