« O.K. by me in America* | Main | How many boyfriends had Albus Dumbledore? »

House and home

When I see on a page proof that Habitat for Humanity is seeking to build “two homes,” I reach for a pencil.

Houses, not homes. Habitat and contractors build houses, which are structures. Houses become homes when people live in them. That newspaper reporters and editors continue to write about homes when talking about houses shows how deeply infected by real estate cant we have become. Realtors prefer to talk about homes to lure the customers, and now, apparently, everyone has to follow suit in coyness.

I suppose that I should be grateful that the proof doesn’t refer to Habitat’s plan to build “two new homes.” So far as I know, nobody much is in the business of building old homes.

And probably this Habitat project is going to be identified later in this proof as a “new initiative.” Initiare, people, Latin for to enter upon, begin. Root of initial, the first letter; initiate, to introduce; initiative, a first step. An initiative is by definition a new thing, a beginning. The only time it is appropriate to refer to a new initiative is in a context that contrasts the new effort with a previous initiative.

(No offense to Habitat for Humanity, which does good, selfless work. People in Habitat are not responsible for the way journalists write.)

Finally, to round out the rant, I’d better not see If you build it, they will come. It was 1989 when Field of Dreams appeared in theaters. That’s 18 years, a generation ago. You’d think that we might scratch up some fresher allusion.


Posted by John McIntyre at 3:04 PM | | Comments (3)


One reason people use "home" instead of "house" is that some of us live in apartments, and if we say "my house," people jump down our throats for being inaccurate.

So "homes" seems more inclusive, not just for marketing reasons. "Dwelling" is a bit unwieldy, and much more noticeable.

That said, Habitat for Humanity normally builds single-family houses, not apartment buildings.

Oh, no! An 18-year-old allusion!

I had better not quote the Gettysburg Address around you. That would be a seven-score-and-four-year-old allusion, doncha know.

Or Shakespeare. Or Homer.

So a catchphrase from a mediocre movie carries resonance comparable to that of Lincoln's words at Gettysburg. And, presumably, "Where's the beef?" would rank alongside anything from Homer, Dante or Milton.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
Baltimore Sun Facebook page

Most Recent Comments
Sign up for FREE local news alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for local news text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
Stay connected