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What makes a house a home?

I’m sure you all have very different and interesting answers to that question.

It’s also an interesting question from a language-teaching point of view, as I often think of it as an interesting case of when a newly-qualified teacher will really have to think about the precise meanings of particular words, and the specific connotations and assocations they carry with them.

Whatever your definition of a home, I think most people would agree that a home is not merely a house, and a house is not always necessarily a home. And if you look at the history of the word home, it backs this up.

The word comes from the Old English ham (whose influence lingers in the word hamlet), and even back then, it’s meaning was as general as it is now. It could mean dwelling place, house, abode, fixed residence, estate, village, region, or country. Pretty much the same as now, basically. It can be traced back to the hypothetical Proto-Indo-European root tkei- (like all of Proto-Indo-European, we don’t have any direct evidence of its existence, but we can suppose that this root, or something very similar existed, due to similar structures in Indo-European languages throughout history). This probably meant to settle, dwell, be at home.

At first I wondered what earlier, more basic concept the idea of home came from, but then I realised: what more basic concept is there than home? As soon as we had somewhere to shelter from the elements, and mammoths and such, we had a home. It’s no wonder that the idea is so easily shared across languages, and forms of the words representing the idea haven’t really changed.

We can use it slightly differently now sometimes, referring to a homepage or homescreen or so on, though it’s not like those uses of the word will render the common meanings of the word obsolete (and they still share the basic concept of the central place that you return to). No matter how English evolves, we’ll always still have a sense of home, and I don’t expect the word to express that to change much at all.

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