The Grammarphobia Blog

Home truths

Q: Re your house/home post, I searched Google on the same subject, and had almost 19 million responses for “single family home” vs. only 2.5 million or so for “single family house.” One reason may be the influence of realtors (I don’t use the capital R and trademark symbol they demand) who prefer anything but “house” – “home,” “property,” “product,” “unit,” etc. But there’s also something else going on. I searched for the two words as the number of bedrooms increased, and found a clear preference for “house” over “home” when the size (and, thus, price) rose. Fascinating! I guess when you’ve got money, you don’t need to avoid a down-to-earth word and use one with airs. My attempt at scientific analysis!

A: This is fascinating stuff.

I think your conclusion is right. People with money aren’t hesitant to refer to their dwellings as houses – there may even be some reverse snobbery here.

Think of those humongous castles and mansions in Newport, RI, that their owners insist on calling cottages!

Understatement or reverse hyperbole becomes a form of snobbery: “We have a little place in the country,” said Commodore Vanderbilt.

On the other hand, someone who’s less secure financially (and perhaps less secure in other ways) avoids the no-nonsense word “house” and prefers the more affected term beloved of people who sell houses – excuse me, realtors.

It’s like the English-speaking social-climber who calls his table napkin a serviette.

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