I’m looking for somewhere to stay at the moment (if you know somewhere that’s available in Galway let me know!). It’s never much fun, but I don’t mind.
It’s got me thinking about that phrase room to let, or apartment to let. It seems a little strange, and quite different from how we usually use the word. It usually means to allow or to permit. And as I looked at previously, it’s also often used interchangeably with to leave.
Room to let though, means room to rent, which seems quite different. Looking at the word’s origins though, shows us that it’s perhaps not so strange.
The Old English lætan meant to allow, but could also mean to leave behind, to bequeath, or to rent. You can see the similarities between these meanings. They involve stepping back from something, and giving it to someone else. To allow doesn’t quite seem to fit perfectly, but if you let a room to someone, you leave the room alone and allow someone else to use it. In general if you allow someone to do something, you leave it so that they can do it.
Of course the other interesting thing about looking for somewhere to live is the range of euphemisms used by estate agents (or realtors, west of the Atlantic). Cosy of course means horribly cramped. Scope for development/improvement: yes it’s been recently demolished, but see that as an opportunity…
And of course making a word sound vaguely French always made it more attractive. Maisonette means little house in French, but usually refers to a small section of a pre-existing house. Bijou apartment was always my favourite. Bijou is the French for jewel, appropriately enough due to the microscopic size of such apartments.
These euphemisms don’t seem to be as outrageous as they used to be, probably as people came to learn what they really meant. Still though, you can never fully trust the language of someone who wants your money, so make sure you have a good look round that apartment before you sign the lease!