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The common word domus can mean both "house" and "home". How can I make a distinction between a house and a home in Latin? For example, I might buy a house but it doesn't feel like a home yet, or I might have a home despite having no house or apartment to live in. You can replace "house" with any physical place where people live, like an apartment; my goal is to find a way to find a way to distinguish a place built for the purpose of living (a house) and a place where I belong and feel safe (a home).

Does the Latin literature perhaps have this distinction somewhere? The closest thing that came to mind is the saying ubi cor ibi patria, but it doesn't really help disambiguating between houses and homes. What I would really like is a pair of words which could be used for "house" and "home". It seems that casa (and probably others as well) could be used to mean "house but not home" (although it does refer to low-end housing) but I found no word for "home but not house".

Do you have any suggestions for "house" and "home" in Latin?

  • Perhaps some distinction could be made with habito vs versor? – Nickimite Jul 21 at 18:39
  • @Nickimite Making the distinction with verbs never crossed my mind, but that sounds like a good idea. Especially if those two are an attested contrasting pair in that sense, that would be great. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jul 21 at 18:47
  • @Joonas llmavirta: In English "at home" has a feeling of comfort; security; peace-of-mind. Americans invite guests to "make themselves at home". In Latin "domi" = "at home"; "postquam domi suae lesum hospitio recepit..." = "after welcoming Jesus to his home..." (Glosbe: Uses of domi). – tony Jul 22 at 10:54
  • @tony That is precisely the sense of "home" I am after. Indeed, domus can mean this but it can also refer to the physical building. The distinction is hard to make with it, although it's certainly the most important word in this topic. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jul 22 at 11:04
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A word for “house” is probably the easy part:

  • aedes, -ium, f. literally means “rooms.” Only fits if your dwelling has more than one room, although, if it has only one, you could call it aedis.
  • domicilium and habitatium are pretty generic terms

However, I am partial to tectum (roof) in the metonymical sense, which I think emphasises the function of a living place to shelter you from the elements, and no more.

For “home” as the place where you belong and feel safe, I would suggest lar. It literally refers to the lares domestici, the Roman household gods that belonged to the house and often had a small shrine near the hearth, but metonymically also stands for someone's home. Lar familiaris seems to have been used in the sense of “familiar home,” e.g. Sallust quotes Catilina holding a speech about social inequality (that might as well have been held by a Frenchman in 1789 or a Russian in 1917):

Etenim quis mortalium, cui virile ingenium est, tolerare potest […] illos binas aut amplius domos continuare, nobis larem familiarem nusquam ullum esse?
What mortal with a manly character can bear it […] when they are joining two or more houses together, while we have nowhere a familiar hearth?

So if you wanted to say (for example after moving to a city): “I've found a place to live, but I haven't established a home yet.” – you could say: Tecto subii, sed etiam sine lare familiari sum.

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    Excelent suggestion! I would have thought that the plural lares would be more common, but your quote from Sallust gainsays my prejudice. – Figulus Jul 21 at 23:11
  • Excellent indeed. Spanish uses hogar, a hearth, which is exactly the same idea minus gods. The only snag might be if you wanted to say that Rome is a city of half a million lares, because that implies (which is absurd) one lar per household. It is one of those cases where one needs plurals of plurals... – Martin Kochanski Jul 22 at 6:56
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    As a portugese speaker, we use a lot "LAR" to mean home. I can have a home, even if I dont have house. I, and my wife and kids, can have a home, even if we live over the streets, one street each day. As we still hold together, support each other, rely on each other, we have a quit strong LAR, even without house. – Tiago Marques Jul 22 at 9:01
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    Just adding, I hope, an interesting "cent" to enforce the "lar" as a good word for what you are looking for. I believe "Home, sweet home" has become an american saying (just learnt this origin is a song) and I believe people use it exactly to express a place they feel comfortable, at ease, safe and enjoy being at. In Portuguese, the same would be "Lar, doce lar" which is also used to express the same and as far as I could find it comes directly from the latim "LAR". – FEST Jul 22 at 15:28
  • @Figulus To be sure, the dictionaries also list plural uses in this sense. For some reason, in one example Ovid prefers the plural tecta, but still the singular larem: “nunc avis in ramo tecta laremque parat” (Fasti III 242). Who knew birds had lares too? – Sebastian Koppehel Jul 26 at 11:07

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