English English language Etymology Expression

When ‘stopping’ means ‘staying’

Q: I’m an old movie buff who likes to research some of the forgotten usages in pre-1950 movies. One usage I’ve noticed is “stopping” at a hotel (or a friend’s home or whatever) where today we would say “staying.” When did this change?

A: The use of “stopping” for “staying” isn’t quite so dead as you think. It still shows up once in a while, as in this post by a British tourist on Tripadvisor (Aug. 14, 2022):

“Hey all, we’re stopping at the Hilton Capitol Hill & I’m a keen runner. Are there any running routes (park based maybe) near there?”

You’re right, though, that the usage isn’t all that common these days. We compared two expressions, “stopping at the Waldorf” and “staying at the Waldorf” using Google’s Ngram viewer, which tracks words and phrases in digitized books.

The results indicate that the two expressions were pretty much equally popular from the 1890s to the 1940s, when the “staying” version became the overwhelming favorite.

In the mid-16th century the verb “stay” came to mean “to reside or sojourn in a place for a longer or shorter period; to sojourn or put up with a person as his guest,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

The first OED example, which we’ve expanded, is from a letter written June 5, 1554, by the Earl of Bedford and Lord Fitzwaters about the voyage of Prince Philip, son of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, to England for his marriage to Queen Mary I:

“And from Villa Franca unto St. James’, being distant forty leagues, with all the speed he can conveniently make, where he stayeth about two days” (from England Under the Reigns of Edward VI. and Mary, 1839, by Patrick Fraser Tytler).

In the early 19th century, the OED says, the verb “stop” came to mean “to remain, prolong one’s stay in a place; to stay (to dinner, at home, with a person).”

The dictionary’s first citation is from The Mysterious Husband (1801), a novel by Gabrielli, pseudonym of Elizabeth Meeke: “If your Honour and you, Madam, will stop to dinner with us.” Meeke was the stepsister of the novelist Fanny Burney.

In looking into your question, we came across an article in the Dec. 24, 1978, issue of The New York Times about Claudio Carlo Buttafava, general manager of the Savoy Hotel in London.

The headline, “Stopping at the Savoy,” was a pun on “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” the 1933 jazz standard composed by Edgar Sampson.

And since we’re still in a holiday spirit, we’ll end with this version by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.

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