Etymology Usage

Is this wording off base?

Q: I’ve recently noticed the increasing use of “based in” to refer to a place where a person resides. This strikes me as an odd application. I’d say a business or an organization is “based in” such and such a city, but a person lives there.

A: We too find using “based in” an awkward way to describe where somebody lives.

The noun “base” is not commonly defined as a home.

None of the dictionaries we usually consult—the Oxford  English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.), The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.)—include “home” or “hometown” or “place of residence” among the definitions of “base.”

The closest we can come are definitions of a “base” as a headquarters, a center of organization, or an area of operations. And most of the examples seem to be military or corporate.

The OED, for example, has definitions for “base” as a place from which army, air, or naval operations are conducted, and as an administrative center or area of operations.

And it has a definition for the verb “base” as “to place or have a military base or an administrative or operational centre at (in, etc.) a place.” (Note the italics with “at” and “in.”)

All the OED’s citations for the phrase “home base” are either military or corporate in nature or baseball references.

And American Heritage defines “based” (a participial adjective formed from the verb “base”) as meaning stationed or assigned to a base, as in “troops based in the Middle East.”

Like you, we’ve noticed that people often use “based in” merely to describe where someone lives.

Certainly it’s true that someone’s home or hometown is also that person’s center of activity.

Perhaps because of the term’s military and business associations, “based in” seems suited to describe where somebody conducts business. And as we all know, many people conduct their business at home these days.

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