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Letter to the editor in the New York Times of 27 June (from James Bloom of Bethlehem, Pa.):

Paul Krugman's observations ["Home Not-So-Sweet Home", column of 23 June] about our uncritical bias in favor of home ownership and the widespread attitude toward home renters as second-class citizens calls to mind an exchange I had several years ago while ordering a pizza.

When I told the delivery dispatcher my address, she asked, "Is that an apartment or a home?"

I still don't know what the right answer would have been, though the pizza did arrive.

I was at first baffled by Bloom's bafflement, until I realized he was understanding home to refer one's domicile, the place where one lives, which could be either a house or an apartment (he might also have been assuming — contrary to fact — that apartments are only rented rather than owned, but this isn't clear from his story). The delivery dispatcher, on the other hand, was using home to mean 'house', and was asking whether the delivery was to be made to a residence accessible from the street or whether the deliverer would have to gain access to the interior of the building.

As it turns out, MWDEU has a (fairly long) entry on home vs. house, observing that some writers have criticized home 'house' on the grounds that homes are not merely residences but come with an emotional attachment lacking for mere houses; that others have criticized it on class grounds (a criticism that goes back at least to Emily Post in 1927); that still others have criticized it as a genteelism, a device of real-estate agents and advertising writers (though MWDEU notes that "the usage is much older than modern real-estate agents"); and that other usage writers have noted that for many "ordinary prose writers" (and the pizza delivery dispatcher), home and house are often interchangeable. For Bloom (and many other modern speakers and writers), however, home is distinguished from house.

A final note on home ownership: MWDEU reports that "a number of commentators have remarked on the tendency to buy a home and sell a house".

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56 Comments »

  1. jlr said,

    June 29, 2008 @ 1:20 pm

    > For Bloom (and many other modern speakers and writers), however, home is distinguished from house.

    This includes Bob Dylan. "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest" has a line, "It's not a house, it's a home." That was later quoted in a footnote the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" computer game, if memory serves.

    In any case, a person always 'goes home', whether or not that home is an apartment or house.

  2. Alexis said,

    June 29, 2008 @ 1:31 pm

    Unless I'm completely misinformed, in many areas of the US it is not possible to have an owner-occupied apartment, unless the owner happens to live in one of the units while tenants live in the others. Groups of owner-occupied non-detached residences are (by definition in those areas) condos or townhomes.

  3. Will Fitzgerald said,

    June 29, 2008 @ 1:51 pm

    Google 3-gram data:

    buy a home 328,584
    buy a house 235,019
    sell a home 193,088
    sell a house 25,632

    buy house/home ratio: 0.72
    sell house/home ratio: 0.13

  4. Bunny Mellon said,

    June 29, 2008 @ 2:12 pm

    Townhomes. I've never heard that one before.

    Don't they have the saying in America, "A house is not a home"? It means that a house is a a building still without the personal touches needed to make it 'a home'.

  5. Robert E. Harris said,

    June 29, 2008 @ 2:20 pm

    "A House Is Not A Home" is the title of a book by Polly Adler, notable madam of earlier times, maybe 1955? The "house" is a house of prostitution.

    REH

  6. Jonathan said,

    June 29, 2008 @ 2:44 pm

    "It takes a heap 'o living in a house t' make it home."

  7. Neal Goldfarb said,

    June 29, 2008 @ 3:41 pm

    Or, as Jesse Winchester put it, It takes more than a hammer and nails to make a house a home.

  8. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    June 29, 2008 @ 4:00 pm

    Developers seem to be using "town home" more, probably as part of their marketing strategy. Recently on the AP Stylebook site, a post on "Ask the Editor" addressed "town home." AP is taking a strict view of the term. Here it is:

    Webster's says town house/ town home can be one or two words – we're doing stories on a controversial town home development and wondered if AP has a preference? Thanks a bunch. – on Thu, Jun 12, 2008

    Town house (two words) is preferred in AP stories. The other term is rarely used.

  9. John Cowan said,

    June 29, 2008 @ 4:12 pm

    "It takes a heap o' humpin' to make a 'house' a home." –Anon.

  10. Andrej Bjelaković said,

    June 29, 2008 @ 4:53 pm

    In Sebian we have an opposite thing going – 'kuća' means 'a house' but it's regularly used in the meaning 'home', even though the home in question is in fact an appartment, and we have a separate word meaning 'home' ('dom').
    So 'at home' is 'kod kuće'/'kući' in Serbian.
    I'd be surprised if something similar isn't going on with some other languages as well.

  11. Jed Davis said,

    June 29, 2008 @ 5:00 pm

    And sometimes it goes the other way. Once upon a time, my tiny shoebox of a studio apartment in Manhattan was referred to, several times IIRC, as "his house".

    (The context involved another tenant and some friends of theirs trying to get a sofa down the building stairs; it had gotten stuck such that they had to borrow the first few feet of space inside my door to get it turned around.)

  12. Ken Lakritz said,

    June 29, 2008 @ 5:03 pm

    Paul Fussell discussed the use of 'house' vs. 'home' in Class, a meanspirited but funny book he published in 1983. Fussell's take was that the excessive use of 'home' was driven by realtors striving for connotations of warmth, comfort, and permanence as they pushed status-insecure customers into soulless, mass-market schlock housing.
    'House,' by contrast, he found rude and archaic, and therefore upper-class. No one, he observed, ever thought to elevate the status of a trophy second residence by describing it as ' a two-hundred year old farmhome in Vermont.

  13. Matt B said,

    June 29, 2008 @ 5:03 pm

    It's not a crack house, it's a crack home.
    http://www.theonion.com/content/node/33874

  14. Paul Clapham said,

    June 29, 2008 @ 5:26 pm

    When I lived in California in the 1970's, there were from time to time fires that burned through the hills around Los Angeles. As there still are. I noticed then the tendency of the news reports to describe the buildings which were burned as "homes" if they were rich people's dwellings and "structures" if they were poor people's dwellings.

  15. Don Campbell said,

    June 29, 2008 @ 7:16 pm

    This replacement of "house" with "home" must be an American phenomenon, because I've never seen it here in Australia, or encountered it in Britain.

    Real estate agents here only use "home" in the same sense as lay people: in phrases such as, "a place to call home/make a home", etc.

    In particular, "townhome" sounds very wrong in Australian English.

  16. Meesher said,

    June 29, 2008 @ 7:42 pm

    In Baltimore at least, it's a rowhouse when you live there and a townhouse when you're selling it. I guess now those would be rowhome and townhome.

  17. Alexpri said,

    June 29, 2008 @ 11:37 pm

    Regarding Jed Davis's comment, I noticed the use of "house" to refer to someone's apartment years ago on Seinfeld, where it was a pretty common usage, if I recall correctly. I wonder if it is specific to New York.

  18. Robert Coren said,

    June 29, 2008 @ 11:50 pm

    jlr notes:

    > In any case, a person always 'goes home', whether or not that home is an apartment or house.

    Whereas in German one goes "nach Hause" no matter what kind of place one lives in (but then again I don't think the word "heim" is ever used to identify a physical structure of any kind).

  19. rootlesscosmo said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 12:55 am

    The "heap o' livin'" line is from a poem by Edgar A. Guest; Polly Adler was writing at a time when many book buyers would have read that poem in anthologies or learned it as schoolchildren.

  20. sandra wilde said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 1:13 am

    In real estate classified ads, typically the "homes" category is sales and the "houses" category is rentals.

  21. Matthew Stuckwisch said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 1:55 am

    My understanding of the terms is the following

    house – free standing structure that appears to be a single residence (it may or may not)
    home – the place where one lives
    apartment – large building typically of multiple stories each divided into several residences that are rented
    condominium – same as apartment, but purchased and owned
    townhouse – similar to condominiums, but each residence is on its own piece of land, and is built more upwards than outwards
    loft – large single room residence at the top of an apartment or condominium building with all necessities in one open area.

    townhome (with or without the space) sounds wrong to my Southern American English ears.

  22. Edward Vitasek said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 3:28 am

    > Whereas in German one goes "nach Hause" no matter what kind of place one lives in (but then again I don't think the word "heim" is ever used to identify a physical structure of any kind).

    Actually, in German one also goes "heim":

    Ich gehe nach Hause.

    and

    Ich gehe heim.

    both mean "I'm going home," although the latter – I think – is more colloquial (I'm an Austrian native speaker of German).

    Interestingly, the word "Heim" is used for as an euphemism. Used alone it can mean "retirement home" or "asylum". It's also used in compounds, such as "Altenheim" ("retirement home") or "Tierheim" ("animal shelter").

  23. dr pepper said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 3:41 am

    Matthew Stuckwisch, exactly my sense of it, although my ears are californian. The use of "-home" in a real estate ad always makes me bristle.

  24. Aidan Kehoe said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 4:56 am

    German is also interesting in that »Haus« means “building”. The word has a lot of semantic overlap with English ‘house’ but the two have slightly different meanings; you could say »Er ist nicht im Haus« at a workplace, to indicate that someone isn’t there, and the corresponding English phrase doesn’t really work.

  25. Rachael said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 5:51 am

    To me "home" means "the place where the speaker lives", and nothing else. Semantically it's almost like a pronoun, or like the French "chez".

    If I was asked "Do you live in an apartment or a home?" I would say "neither", because to me "live in a home" unambiguously means "live in an institution, e.g. for the elderly or severely disabled".

  26. James Wimberley said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 6:00 am

    Don Campbell:
    >This replacement of "house" with "home" must be an American phenomenon, because I've never seen it here in Australia, or encountered it in Britain.<
    I've several times heard BBC radio journalists, on the flagship Today programme, conflate the undeniable need for more housing units – homes – in say SE England with an alleged and very dubious requirement to build more houses. As if young singles and over-80s, the two fastest growing groups of the population, want houses rather than flats. The linguistic conflation is bad news and supports a fetishistic bad policy.

  27. Bunny Mellon said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 9:53 am

    Also in German, kontorhaus, bürohaus and in England, Houses of Parliament.

    This brings me to something I've never understood. Ibsen's play A Dollshouse is really called in Norwegian, Et dokkahjem. Now that's A dolls' home not a dollshouse. Norwegian has a perfectly good word for dollshouse, which is dokkahus. It seems to me (I'm no Ibsen expert) that Ibsen wanted 'a dolls' home' and that 'dollshouse' is a mistranslation. Does anyone know the background for this choice of a name? It is complicated, of course, by the American use of 'dollhouse' vs English dollshouse, but that's another story.

  28. Bunny Mellon said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 9:55 am

    There is also the funny American expression, 'to live at home', which means to live with one's parents.

  29. Mary Kuhner said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 10:36 am

    Aidan Kehoe comments on "he's not in the house" not being able, in English, to mean "he's not in the building where he works." Indeed, it doesn't; but work done "in-house" means that it's done here in the work building, not farmed out to an outside supplier. So the idiom is *almost* there in English as well.

    English "house" also means the spectators in a theater, for some reason: house lights, bring down the house.

  30. Josh Millard said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 10:50 am

    More kindling: a house band loyally plays for a venue that's not a home; a house party can take place either at a home or at a fraternity house (which is also a home away from home, or even a fulltime home for some); house rules can apply in a home or at a gaming venue. But 'home band', 'home party' and 'home rules' are all terrible, regardless of the homefulness of their referents.

  31. Norwegian said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 10:52 am

    I've wondered about the same thing. Either 'dukkehjem' is a 19th century word for modern 'dukkehus' or 'dokkehus' or, more likely, all those translators have been wrong in translating 'Et dukkehjem' as 'A Doll's House' or 'A Doll House'.

  32. Bunny Mellon said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 11:11 am

    Yes, I wondered if dukkehjem was an old fashioned word for a doll' s house, but my wife (an actual Norwegian) assures me it's just Ibsen.

  33. Robert Coren said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 11:38 am

    "He's in the house" is definitely used of sports figures to indicate that they are present in the stadium (with, I believe some additional metaphorical meaning, not entirely understood by me), and it wouldn't surprise me if it were to spread (or had already spread) to places of business.

  34. Robert Coren said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 11:40 am

    As to the Ibsen play, I don't know any Norwegian, but the old Italian saw "Traduttore? Traditore!" is never more true than when it comes to translating titles.

  35. Arnold Zwicky said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 11:52 am

    Two things. First, there is clearly a lot of individual and regional variation here, which is fascinating to hear about. But I'd like to caution readers against thinking that the purpose of this discussion is to decide what house and home and other residence terms *should* (or worse, *really*) mean. The fact is that, no matter what distinctions *you* make in this domain, you have to be prepared to cope with the way other people use these expressions.

    Things might have gone better for Bloom if he'd thought to ask himself *why* the pizza delivery dispatcher was asking the apartment/home question and what she could have meant by it.

    My second observation is that we've moved into an area where folk classification (in particular, the distinction between externally accessible residences and residences within a building, requiring gaining access to the interior) and various technical classifications intersect and mingle. This is the distinction many people make between house and apartment/flat. But there are other residence types — for instance, condos and co-ops — that are defined in legal terms, rather than by physical characteristics.

    NOAD2 defines condominium as "a building or complex of buildings containing a number of individually owned apartments or houses" (note the apartment/house distinction). This gets the "individually owned" part right but misses a crucial point (distinguishing condominiums from ordinary housing developments), namely that the exterior elements of the condominium are held in common, as the property of a condominum association.

    Physically, condominiums come in at least three varieties: houses (physically indistinguishable from rowhouses or houses in clusters), buildings with interior residences and a small number of points of access from the outside which lead into an interior lobby (physically indistinguishable from ordinary apartment buildings, sometimes to the point of having doormen), and an intermediate type, in which each residence has its own exterior door but access to those doors is through a locked gate leading to a common exterior area. Ordinary English has no terms for these distinctions, and, obviously, just using condo(minium) will not be very informative.

    To complicate things still further, the terminology for condominiums varies from place to place. According to the Wikipedia entry, it's condominium in the U.S. and most of Canada, strata title in Australia and British Columbia, syndicate of co-ownership in Quebec, commonhold in England and Wales, and, alas, flat in India.

  36. Norwegian said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 12:11 pm

    Bunny, I'm an actual Norwegian, too, and like your wife I've never encountered the word 'dukkehjem' in any other context. 'Dukkehjem' can never mean 'doll's house' in contemporary Norwegian. But that doesn't mean it's 100 % certain that it could never have that meaning back in the 19th century.

  37. Jeff Binder said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 1:00 pm

    I don't think "in the house" originated with sports. "He's in the house" just generally means "he is in this building," with vaguely positive connotations – you might use it when a friend of yours arrives at a party. It would sound dated now, though, at least to me. I don't know when the expression originated, but I mainly associate it with the early-mid 1990s. I have vague memories of a sitcom named "In the House" airing around 1995. I would guess that when sports announcers use it now it is at least partially tongue-in-cheek.

  38. Coby Lubliner said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 1:53 pm

    It seems clear that both "house" and "home" are polysemous words, and that one of their shared meanings is "detached or semi-detached single-family dwelling" or something like that. While French has "pavillon" and European Spanish has "chalet", English seems to have no other word with this general meaning, as opposed to having a great many words for specific types of "house" or "home" (cottage, bungalow, villa, cabin etc.).

  39. Arnold Zwicky said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 2:18 pm

    Jeff Binder: "I have vague memories of a sitcom named "In the House" airing around 1995"

    Good memory: 1995-99, according to the imdb. Then there's "Cory in the House", which started last year and is still going on.

    In a very different vein, there was the 1954 film "Doctor in the House" (with many sequels) and the sitcom it spawned (1969-70, again with many sequels). The title here is a clipping of the formula "Is there a doctor in the house?" — which, depending on the parsing, might be an instance of a title that is not a syntactic constituent (which Geoff Pullum has posted about a couple of times).

  40. mollymooly said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 2:19 pm

    I read an article a few years ago listing house/home as a British/American distinction, along with householder/homeowner and housewife/homemaker. I still have a feeling home is often used in America where house would be in Britain (in contexts where, pace James Wimberley, a house rather than a unit is clearly implied); but homeowner has evicted householder, and housewife is going, though not due to pressure from homemaker, which is still American to my ears.

  41. Frank Hale said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 2:38 pm

    Divorce always produces "a broken home," never "a broken house." Just ask the ex who got the house.

  42. Bunny Mellon said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 3:06 pm

    Ah, I took you for a Norwegian-American, sorry. Half of Minnesota claims to be Norwegian but then it turns out they snakker ikke norsk.

    I'll tell my wife what you said.

    We really need a British/US Ibsen expert to solve this. James Joyce was supposed to have learnt Norwegian in order to read the plays in the original, I wonder if he had something to say.

  43. Kate said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 4:25 pm

    Yeah, the more I think about it, the stranger the permutations of house/home/Haus/Heim get.

    Wohnhaus – an apartment building

    Eigenheim – "one's own" house, i.e. single-family detached unit

    Wohnheim – a dormitory

    As usual, there's probably no real underlying logic here.

  44. Ralph Hickok said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 4:49 pm

    I believe the phrase "Is there a doctor in the house?" originated as a question asked from the stage in a theater when an actor or patron became ill during a performance.

  45. Bunny Mellon said,

    June 30, 2008 @ 5:12 pm

    And in the old days doctors used to make house calls, or home visits.

  46. Robert Coren said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 12:03 am

    I was going to say what Ralph Hickok said about the theatrical origin of "doctor in the house", and note that "portion of a theater occupied by the audience" is yet another meaning of "house" (which would be complete nonsense if replaced by "home").

  47. Bunny Mellon said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 12:48 am

    There is a phrase from I think WW2 England, "keep the home fires burning", which I assume referred to fires in fireplaces, and would be made much nastier by being changed to "keep the house fires burning".

    German also has the expression Heimat, which I don't think can be put into English with precisely the same meaning.

  48. Andrea Orenduff said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 6:15 am

    From yahoo…July 1st, 2008

    Deven Trabosh poses at home in West Palm Beach, Fla. Thursday, June 26, 2008. Trabosh, a divorced mother of two, has listed her home online in an effort to sell her house and herself. She hopes that whoever buys the house will want share her life.

    and the comment from a "Home Boy" "this wouldn't be an issue if they'd just call it a "crib"

  49. Russell said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 12:44 pm

    I've been amused by a trend in the last year or so where classy restaurants refer to "house made" salad dressing, sauces, etc.

    I suspect that this is because "home made" is overused and, come to think of it, really silly. I live in Vermont and have known people who work for "Ben and Jerry's Homemade." They'll admit that it's made in a factory, not someone's home.

  50. buford puser said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 9:20 pm

    1) "Your/my house" for "your/my apartment residence" is indeed standard working-class New York City usage for a generation at least.

    2) Announcing that so-and-so is "in the house" is considerably older than early 90s. It was a standard trope of early (80=82, say) hip-hop, so standard it has a name: to announce that "So-and-so is in the house!" is to "give a shout-out". Compare "Elvis has left the building."

  51. Janice Huth Byer said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 10:28 pm

    Children play "house". They can't play "home" but they can steal it in baseball. We can be "just a housewife" but never "just a homemaker."

  52. 400guy said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 10:31 pm

    For those with a fascination for details …

    Arnold Zwicky points out that it is the form of ownership rather than the form of the property which distinguishes a condiminium. With this I have to agree.

    So, in the example of an apartment building, it *may* be that you as a unit owner bought a volume of space and you individually own everything in that volume. The rest of the real property is held in common by the unit owners.

    When the condominium corportation buys a snow shovel for cleaning the sidewalk, the corporation does does not actually own the snow shovel. Rather, the shovel becomes part of the commonly held property. ("Why a snow shovel?", you ask. 'Cause I'm Canadian, and we buy condos just to get out of shovelling our own snow. Happy Canada Day, all!)

    Just to complicate the issue, it is possible for the condominium corporation to hold property in its own right. For example, the computer used for keeping the corporation's books could well belong to the corporation rather than to the unit owners in common. Sigh!

    The discussion has focused on residential condominiums. There are, as well, commercial condominiums. I think I even remember reading about a dock held as a condominium. (My memory is like a steel trap: old and rusty, but I'm sure there's steel in there somewhere.)

  53. a said,

    July 2, 2008 @ 5:19 pm

    I remember noticing "house" for an apartment on "Seinfeld" a number of years ago, and thinking it must be a New York-ism. If you had asked me, I'd have told you that my dialect strictly distinguishes "house", "apartment", and "condo", and reserves "home" for idioms and real-estate lingo. However, I've caught myself calling my home a "house" a number of times lately; things like "wanna come over to my house for dinner?". My home is, in fact, a boat (not a houseboat, either, a boat boat). I've done the same thing talking about other people's apartments and condos.

    "House-made" dressing– I don't think this is a play on "homemade"; it's the same "house" as in "it's on the house" (meaning "complimentary")– it just means it's made on the premises.

  54. Kate said,

    July 3, 2008 @ 8:11 am

    400guy, you're right about condominiums. That was one of those things I didn't figure out until halfway through my college education… and embarassingly enough I'm an urban planner.

  55. buford puser said,

    July 3, 2008 @ 8:07 pm

    A usage probably derived from the NYC usage of "house" for apartment: in prison, your cell is your house: "The police came up in my house" (correction officers entered my cell).
    Another usage on the home front is the British "Shall I come over to yours?"

  56. Sarah said,

    August 10, 2008 @ 12:38 pm

    I found this discussion when I googled "house vs. home"
    How I got here: a close friend consistently uses the word "home" when she is referring to what I call my "house" and her use of the word irritates me — and I want to know if the use of the word "home" is an issue that ever comes up among language types, and I find it is! On a upenn board no less. w00t. Anyway, it feels like an invasion when my friend says " Thank you for having me over to your home," to me. I feel like replying, ",it's 'HOUSE' to YOU, if you please!"

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