Recently I got a postcard in the mail offering services to help you "Sell your home faster!" And it struck me as very very wrong. After all, who would want to sell their home? Surely what you'd want to sell is your house, so that you can relocate and make your home in a new place?
So what exactly is the difference between house and home?
Both house and home come from Old English roots and have been part of English as far back as any words. The root of house may have been more associated with the building, and the root of home more associated with village (as in the -ham suffix still used in English place names.) Home may have shifted from ideas of "home-town," to the place you come from and the place you belong, to the locus of your domestic affections. Through the ages both words have been used with implications of affection, and both words have been used to refer to mere buildings, but clichés such as "Home is where the heart is" and "There's no place like home" get at the different connotations. Generally speaking, home continues to carry connotations of family, emotional comfort, and belonging, while house is more likely to refer to a physical dwelling place.
In the past several decades, however, real estate agents seem to have stopped talking about houses and begun to talk almost exclusively about "homes." It's easy to understand how real estate agents, trying to evoke all that people hope for when they have to move house, started promising to help a family find not just a new house, but a new home. I can understand the logic behind wanting to buy a new home, although I'm of the opinion that homes, like love, can't really be bought. But even if you allow the idea of buying a home, surely no one would want to sell one. And that can only mean that "Buyer's Desire Home Staging" company, who sent that postcard to my house, have completely forgotten what the word home means. To them it is clearly nothing more than the prestige synonym for dwelling.
Given that house and home have such a long intertwined history of usage, I probably can't really claim that the postcard was wrong in its use of the word "home" in this context. But I don't care - I do think they're wrong! You can buy houses, you can sell houses, you can even "stage" houses "to outshine the competition." But I'm going to stand firm with another cliché, and assert that "Only love can make a home."
[Picture: In a Little Crooked House, rubber block print by AEGN, 2002.]