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Fascista Friday: House and Home

If you're new to Fascista Friday, please read the caveats and disclaimers here.

It's a reality that language is a changing and evolving entity. Verbs become nouns, nouns become verbs, and slang transforms from shibboleth to common usage in the blink of a generational eye. Those fluent in modern English don't speak, write or think using the same language the translators of the King James Bible or the framers of the Constitution did, even though it seems that way some of the time. I can accept this, for the most part.

Today's subject is a crusade doomed from the start; I stand as but a feeble stem in the tsunami-level tide on this one. Why bring it up for the Fascista's sophomore week? Maybe because it's my most cherished usage peeve, or maybe just to prove to the world how very quixotic I am. If I were Catholic, I would take the matter to Saint Jude, the patron of lost causes. I'm not, though, so I guess I'm on my own.

My topic today is the usage of 'home' and 'house.' Traditionally, 'house' described a particular type of physical structure, whereas 'home' meant the place where you live and feel you belong.

Here's how Robert Frost famously defined 'home,' from his 1915 poem "The Death of the Hired Man."

Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.

But this strict and precise definition of 'home' started to change in the 1950s. After World War II, when America invented the Suburban Dream, a profession rose up out of obscurity into great prominence. I refer, of course, to the vast army of real estate agents now entrenched permanently throughout the global village. These humble soldiers, given the task of marketing properties to a prosperous public, redefined 'home,' with far-reaching results. Here's what usage guru Kenneth Wilson writes [bold emphasis mine; italics his]:
Realtors have turned home into a euphemism: no realtors worth their salt will sell houses, only warm, emotion-filled homes....Nor is this the only euphemistic entanglement the highly charged word home has been involved in: the terms convalescent home, retirement home, and nursing home are in such universal use that the more explicit, informative asylum, convalescent hospital, retirement center, or nursing hospital are no longer current. Much tugging and hauling is ill-concealed in this double use of the word: We wanted to keep mother at home, but the doctor said she’d be better off in a home.
--Kenneth G. Wilson (1923–). The Columbia Guide to Standard American English. 1993.

Modern dictionaries are now bowing to the weight of nearly universal usage of 'home' in this way, though stalwarts like the OED persist in more traditional (though somewhat slippery) meanings such as "the physical dwelling-place of a family."

Redefining and using 'home' for purposes of commerce has cheapened the term. I hear nearly everywhere phrases like "a home's energy use" or "that old Victorian home on the hill" or 'his home value went up with the pool installation" or "buying a home in Montclair" or "sold their home for less than what they paid for it."

Just as money can't buy you love, money can't buy a home. In all cases in the preceding paragraph, 'home' is used incorrectly; 'house' would have been proper usage. It may seem extreme to you, but I believe that using 'home' to refer to a physical structure rather than a place of the heart (or at least, habit) shows our culture's unhealthy focus on material objects as substitutes for the things that really matter in life.

Here are some examples of 'home' used appropriately:

She returned home after a grueling semester at college.

They made their first home in Ames, Iowa. [They didn't buy or build the physical structure; they settled in and made the house their home. Got it?]

He filled our home with laughter and chaos.

And finally, a bit of doggerel that may prove a useful mnemonic for those willing to join my crusade: “A house is made of walls and beams; a home is built with love and dreams.”

Some of you are now muttering, "Lighten up, Francis." I bow to your wishes and offer you a lighthearted, but topical, bit o' fun:

Reader Comments (16)

This is one usage bit that never really occurred to me until you mentioned it awhile back. This week while writing, I caught myself using "home" this way--and changed it to "house" just for you.

I don't know that this one will ever be one of the bigger usage peeves of mine, but nonetheless, you're rubbing off of me!

April 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnnette Lyon

I am so on board with this! In fact, I was trying to explain the difference to the Primary kids on Sunday - and was received with blank stares. A happy home needs loving parents and helpful kids. A happy house needs reshingling and paint. Thanks for starting the crusade!

April 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSydneyMin

I agree 100%!

I am loving Fascista Friday!! I get all excited to see what rule(s) I am breaking! ;)

April 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKateastrophe

I couldn't agree more. I've often said that since I tend to move with a fair amount of frequency that I don't have a home. I've altered that a bit in the past few years. Home is where you keep your cats.

April 25, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercablegirl

This FF thing is going to be fun. I thought you were just going to talk about grammar issues, but this house/home thing (as you eloquently point out) goes far deeper--into our very cultural fabric. Well done.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't they use "house" in the song where they ought to be using "home?" (of course that would ruin a great song, but I'm just wondering what you think...)

April 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJulie Q.

Lost cause it may be, but I'll endeavor to use the terms properly from now on. Assuming I wasn't before.

You're so cute.

April 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly

Dear Fascista,

I am enjoying this immensely. I am aware and respectful of the definite distinction between house and home. I am more aware of it now than ever before. For some reason, though, the blurred line doesn't offend me the way it offends you. Some blurred lines offend me horrifically. This is one I've often used wrong (as you know...) and I am able to live to tell about it. Haha. What I'm trying to say, then, is that I'm enjoying learning what things drive you crazy, and I'm entertained when they are things that simply DON'T drive me crazy! I'll have to think of something that drives me absolutely batty and see if you have the same reaction. I'll ponder it...



Brillig, your number one fan

April 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBrillig

Ah, Julie Q., you are so astute; I wondered whether anyone would pick up on that.

The funny thing about that song is that the boys are describing BOTH their home life AND what goes on in their house, so it's a rare instance where both words might work.

BUT I think the modifying prepositional phrase "In the middle of our street" pushes the usage back towards 'house.'

Plus, you're right: "Our home" would just sound lame. ;) And I forgive a lot when it comes to great pop music.

April 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLuisa Perkins

This is so true. When you started of, I thought "well of course, that's obvious". I never realised how Home has started to get used in a wrong context, but you are right.

In Dutch we don't have that problem.
Huis = house
Thuis = home.
Home = a retirement place.

haha, isn't that funny and sad, we started using the wrong use for "home" and adopoted it in our own language.

So a doctor would say that she can't longer stay "thuis" but that she should go to a "home" :p.

April 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGoofball

well, that's a very unique perspective......

(evil grin)

April 25, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdeb

I was totally thinking of that song!

April 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMary

To my mind, home is where we start from. Isn't house that medical doctor character that Hugh Laurie portrays on TV?

April 26, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterd. w. winnicott

Loved the post, as usual! Please, please, please take on "further" and "farther"???

(Can you tell I'm grading final projects?)

P.S. It was great to be reminded of this song, too. ;-)

April 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJen of A2eatwrite

A wonderful entry for your Fascista Friday. Love the song at the end as well, so appropriate. I usually get this one correct when speaking or writing, but I am sure I have injected home in the wrong place on occasion.

April 26, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdawn

*riffing on Deb's awesome comment* So, when a real estate ad says "unique 3 bedroom 2 bath home"....

I realize this type of comment will become increasingly difficult to pull off, but I'll try to keep up. It's almost the least I could do.

April 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRadioactive Jam

I totally agree.

This is FUN!

April 28, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteranjmae

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