Blog Post #1: “Home” and “House”

I found these words in the reflection of my own life, actually during an argument with my mother. After visiting some family this weekend in Richmond, I commented that I wanted to return home before dark –unknowing offending my mother by referring to my apartment in Charlottesville as “home.” The home that she was thinking of is a white house within walking distance of downtown Winchester, VA. I haven’t spent more than two months in that house since I was fourteen; having gone to boarding school, I’ve mastered the art of packing and easily set up a comfortable dwelling almost anywhere. That “house” is just a building, but wherever I live at the moment is “home”. Then I asked myself, does the fact that I don’t live in the house keep me from calling it home? What’s the difference? And how have the two words grown into American culture?

“House” from the OED:

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“Home” from the OED:

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The definitions make the difference very clear (as well as make myself a bit guilty for implying that our house has no familiar content). Home includes the contents of the house that stimulate the senses.

Ngram:

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On this comparison, notice the two times where the lines meet and diverge. Around 1920 and 1935, the frequencies of the words are about the same. Over all, “home” begins in 1800 at about 2% lower than “house,” but eventually surpasses “house.” Another point of interesting behavior occurs between 1940 and 1980, where both words seem to decrease in frequency.

I am not convinced that the difference of the two words in meaning relates to the difference in frequency. Rather, the difference is due to a change in writing style from formal to colloquial. Perhaps the usage of the words fluxuated during The Great Depression, when many American’s struggled to keep their houses or were homeless. With this idea in mind, I added “homeless” to the list of comparison. It’s line was flat and shallow compared with “home” and “house,” but alone it looks like this:

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The word gradually grows in usage, until a jump between the years of 1980 and 2000.

Ngram continues to fascinate me, but I don’t think it is the ultimate word tool. With little detail provided by google about how these words are searched for, I find it hard to credit. Although these words are different according to the OED, they could be too similar to see any major differences in usage. Analyzing the ngram data could be forcing or creating meaning in literary culture where it doesn’t really exist.  While the graphs are clear and attractive, I find them more dramatic than actually informative.

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