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Where Does the Word "Mortgage" Come From?
December 1, 2021

Where Does the Word "Mortgage" Come From?

by The CE Shop Team

The Origin of the Word “Mortgage” Is Darker Than You May Have Imagined

Generally, the first thing we think of when we hear the word “mortgage” is the homebuying process. Despite how common it is to hear about mortgages and mortgage rates, the word itself has an interesting history that is actually a bit morbid. Break out your trusty Merriam-Webster dictionary, and let’s dive into the real meaning of the word “mortgage”.

The French Influence

As Americans, we might not realize how many of our day-to-day phrases come from the French. You’ll surely recognize popular adopted phrases like “bon appetit”, “a la carte”, and “je ne sais quoi", but our languages are more entangled than you might think. After all, we both share Latin roots — French is one of five romance languages derived from Latin. In fact, it wasn’t until the 9th century that the French language was easily discernible from Latin and considered its own language.

Originally thought to be strictly a descendant of Germanic language, English arguably errs more on the side of being a Romance-Germanic hybrid, according to radical linguists. Though we tend to use French and Latin phrases in academia, English has still been influenced by these languages in more technical ways, like our pronunciation and syntax.

The history of the word "mortgage"

So, What’s Up With the Word “Mortgage”?

The word mortgage comes from the Old French word “morgage”, which directly translates to “dead pledge”. (The prefix of the word, “mort”, means dead, while the suffix, “gage”, means pledge.) Although the word sounds a bit morbid, there is a reason for it! 

Between 1628 and 1644, Sir Edward Coke published a four-part series of legal treatises called The Institutes of Lawes of England. Seen as a foundational document of common law, this writing has been cited in 70 different cases decided by The Supreme Court of the United States, including the landmark case of Roe v. Wade. Referencing mortgage, Coke said, “And it seemeth, that the cause why it is called mortgage is, for that it is doubtful whether the feoffor will pay at the day limited such sum or not: and if he doth not pay, then the land which is put in pledge upon condition for the payment of the money, is taken from him for ever, and so dead to him upon condition. And if he doth pay the money, then the pledge is dead as to the tenant.”

In other words, a mortgage deal is finished (or “dead”) when either the debt is paid or the payment fails.

Mortgage Today

Nowadays, we think of a mortgage when we think of purchasing a home. Merriam-Webster defines the word “mortgage” as “a conveyance of or lien against property (as for securing a loan) that becomes void upon payment or performance according to stipulated terms.”

“Mortgage” isn’t the only word with a definitive reason as to why it came to be. With the English language being an amalgamation of Romance and Germanic languages, many of our words come from languages much older than ours. This makes finding the origin and meaning of words exciting —  not only for logophiles but also for MLOs who may need an icebreaker at their next dinner party. Nothing says fun and approachable quite like getting into the etymology of commonly used words and phrases. So get out there, share this nugget of knowledge, and you too can become a proud word nerd.

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