House Parts: Their Names & Word Origins
Part 1 of 4
(parts 2, 3 and 4 to follow over the next two weeks)
To paraphrase the folksy poet Edgar Guest, let me sit in a house by the side of the road and try to name all the parts of the very bungalow in which I, cheerful as a toodling warbler, do most happily dwell. How humbling it was to discover that even a citizen as platinum-tongued and magniloquent as my fine self was not able to name thirty or forty distinct parts of the very abode in which I abide.
What is a spandrel? A chamfer? A quoin? A gablet? Spandrel, Chamfer, Gablet & Quoin – it could be a law firm of ambulance-chasing shysters who just won two million dollars from an estate on behalf of their distressed client who had grievously injured a fingernail while picking the lock on his dying grandmother’s bedroom safe.
Thought I, If Casselman failed to peg these house-hold words, maybe a reader would too? So here is the list, helpful I trust, as a modest attempt to remove the tar paper of ignorance which heretofore shrouded my dwelling-place vocabulary.
Anchor Bolt: A threaded rod inserted in masonry construction to anchor the sill plate to the foundation.
A mason’s hewn, dressed or squared stone used to face or corner a brick wall or for pavement stone is ashlar from Old French forms like aiseler from Old French ais ‘board, plank,’ through Middle English asheler, but its ultimate etymon is Latin axis ‘axle, plank’ and its Latin diminutive axilla ‘little axle, human armpit.’
The floor joist, also called band board, that runs around the perimeter of the house above the foundation. See Part 3 for more about joist the word.
Bargeboard or gableboard or vergeboard
Surely you have observed the decorative wooden scrollwork on some gingerbread gothic house and said, “My, that’s an attractive home! What do you call that trim? Does Snow White live here? I only ask because the woman of the house copulates with different dwarves every afternoon en plein air beside the swimming pool. But maybe they are merely congenitally hirsute, diminutive pool boys? Ewwww!
This began in the eighteenth century as a coterie of rich, batty Brits exclaiming in unison, “Oh, do let’s build a medieval house, darlings!” This gothic revival lasted from 1730 to 1930. Gingerbread Gothic trim is all that’s left of Gothic Revival design in most modern domestic buildings. But, during Gothic’s two protracted centuries of silliness, the movement (and no more aptly fecal noun can be imagined) influenced the architectural design of museums, homes, cottages, churches, public building and even modern castles.
Insufferably twee Victorian Gothic gables with their bargeboards gingerbreaded to a fare-thee-well
The McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture & Construction has the very best definition in English:
“Gothic Revival buildings usually are characterized by ashlar masonry, polychromed brickwork, or wood walls, often extending into the gables without interruption; Gothic motifs such as battlements, decorative brackets, finials, foils, foliated ornaments, hood moldings, label moldings, pinnacles, pointed arches, towers, turrets; often, a porch with flattened Gothic or Tudor arches; a symmetrical façade; steeply pitched gables often decorated with ornate gingerbread bargeboards; projecting eaves; decorative slate or shingle patterns on the roof; occasionally, a flat roof with crenelated and castellated parapets; ornamental chimney stacks and chimney pots; a cast-iron decorative strip at the ridge of the roof; windows extending into the gables; often, an elaborately paneled front door set into a lancet arch; the entry door sometimes within a recessed porch or under a door hood, occasionally bordered with sidelights.”
Carpenter Gothic North America's romance with gingerbread trim dates to the 1830s and '40s, when builders began to interpret the masonry details of Europe's Gothic Revival architecture in wood. Things started out simply, with a steeply pitched roofline here, and a decoratively carved gable trim there.
Polluted with human waste from toilets and urinals, blackwater swarms with pathogens needing to be neutralized before the water is reused and then only for non-ingesting uses such as flushing or irrigation.
Basic meaning: any device or structure that shields or diverts flow, usually flow of air, interrupting the natural course of heated air, and causing it to pass in another direction. In a house’s upper portion, a baffle creates ventilation or air space between the insulation and the roof sheathing. Baffles help assure airflow from the eave vents in attics and cathedral ceilings. Th etymology is utterly unknown, although many supposititious (as opposed to suppository) notions have been offered forth to swell and bloat the bag of folk etymology.
A batt is a roll or sheet of insulation installed between members of frame construction. Batt develops from two or three words, including Old French batte ‘something beaten,’ Old English *bat ‘ club, cudgel, beating rod,’ or Gaelic bat, bata ‘staff, cudgel, penis.’
Batten are narrow strips of wood used to cover joints or as decorative vertical members over plywood or wide boards. The word is a form of baton <modern French bâton < Old French baston, source of early English baston. All the French forms stem from low Latin bastum ‘a long piece of wood.’
More building terms one ought to know, coming up in Parts 2, 3 and 4 to follow. Part 2 will be posted on June 01.
Aedes is one Latin word, a plural form here, for apartments, dwelling, home. Aedificium is a building or a home, the ultimate etymon of our English word edifice. Others Latin words for home include domus and villa.
copyright © 2012 William Gordon Casselman
Read Some Other Columns
1. Medieval Latin Words in Modern English
2. A Potpourri of Popery: Papal Regalia Words
3. Glissando & Other Musical Terms
4. Origin of Religious Art Terms like Maestà