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.


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