The following passage is taken from a letter by Lord Chesterfield. Could the italic sentence be paraphrased as "Toleration, adoption and naturalization have gone unchanged."

The English language is in "a state of anarchy" and requires the firm smack of discipline: Toleration, adoption and naturalization have run their lengths. Good order and authority are now necessary... We must have recourse to the old Roman expedient in times of confusion and choose a dictator.

  • You could change it that way if you wanted to change the meaning. What it really means is that those things have "run out" -- any effect they might have has been exhausted. – Hot Licks Feb 9 '15 at 1:17
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    I'm not sure but I suspect that the phrase comes from horse racing, where a horse, once it's run it's accustomed distance, loses strength rapidly -- it's "run its length". – Hot Licks Feb 9 '15 at 1:19
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    It means his lordship is giving up on those virtues in favor of something more draconian. – Robusto Feb 9 '15 at 1:55
  • Yeah, @Robusto, "draconian," that's the word his lordship had in mind. – user98990 Feb 9 '15 at 4:28
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    Wouldn't 'length' now be replaced with 'course'? Have run their course. – Mazura Feb 9 '15 at 5:11

Answer, no.

"Toleration, adoption, and naturalization have run their lengths. Good order and authority are now necessary."

"Let it [our language] still preserve what real strength and beauty it may have borrowed from others; but let it not, like the Tarpeian maid, be overwhelmed and crushed by unnecessary ornaments. The time for discrimination [rather than and as opposed to, toleration, adoption and naturalization] seems to be now come."

"run their lengths" here means that "toleration, adoption and naturalization" have been allowed to reach their permissible or desirable limits."

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