The Grammarphobia Blog

House and home, part 3

Q: Your Aug. 14 and Sept. 4 posts about “house” and “home” brought on lively discussions of the subject chez nous. This in turn brought to mind an idiom my father used when I was young to complain about my appetite: “You’ll eat us out of house and home!” Now that I have a son of my own, I’m tempted to resurrect the saying, but I would love to know why the idiom-makers used “house” as well as “home”?

A: Why both words instead of just one or the other? I’d call it an example of poetic emphasis, but the Oxford English Dictionary uses a more scholarly term: alliterative strengthening.

Whatever you call it, you have to admit that a simple complaint like “You’re eating me out of house” or “You’re eating me out of home” just doesn’t carry the cumulative weight of “You’re eating me out of house and home.”

The message is that the teenage son or the visiting relatives or the guests that stay forever are eating so much that they threaten to ruin the host and use up all his worldly resources.

The OED calls the phrase “house and home” an alliterative strengthening of “home.” But I guess one might also describe it as a strengthening of “house.”

Shakespeare uses the phrase in Henry IV, Part II (1597), when Mistress Quickly complains about Falstaff: “He hath eaten me out of house and home; he hath put all my substance into that fat belly of his.”

But the phrase (or ones very like it) had been in use long before it found its way into Shakespeare. Here are some earlier examples cited in the OED.

Circa 1200: “Wif and children, hus and ham.”

1297: “He caste out of house & hom of men a gret route.”

1387: “Men of ye lond were i-dryve out of hir hous and hir home.”

1527: “The prayers of them that … eat the poor out of house and harbour.”

1576: “Hunted out of house and home.”

I hope I haven’t bored you out of house and home.

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