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A “homely” home - would you want to live in it?

I was watching one of those property-buying shows on television the other day, and the show’s host (/real estate agent) was having difficulties finding a house that met his client’s taste. Eventually, the client was introduced to a comfy older property.

“Oh, now this homely”, cooed the client - smiling with surprised approval and relief.

I laughed and said out loud, “Ha - they meant ‘homey’, not ‘homely’!!”

I always understood “homely” to mean “simple, plain, unattractive”, and “homey” to mean “cozy, comfortable, home-like”. However, a family member disputed my criticism saying that the word was used correctly.

I know it’s not the be-all and end-all of dictionaries, but my first online search was with Google’s dictionary, and it produced definitions which both included the description “homelike” (with a comfortable & cozy connotation). homely homey

This is an contradiction and presents a problem. Is a homely home cozy, comfortable and welcoming, or plain, ugly even - and uninviting?

I’m not so sure that I’d like to live in a homely home.. I’d much prefer a homey home.

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Webster says that they are essentially the same. (The definition of “homey” points to the entry for “homely”) I would guess that “homey” is actually a shortened version of “homely”, as our tongues got lazier.

Dyske December 31, 2007 @ 5:59PM

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Likewise look up homely at to resolve your seeming contradiction. Even if it were a complete contradiction, why would that be a problem for you? Most words have many definitions, sometimes contradictory ones.

porsche January 1, 2007 @ 8:01PM

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OK, how about cleave? it means to stick together, to cling, to remain faithful, but also means to split or divide.

The same word can enter the language more than once with similar or different etymologies, and with sometimes similar, sometimes wildly different, and sometimes opposite meanings. Such words are called homonyms (when used in its strictest sense).

For more on this see:

porsche January 2, 2007 @ 5:04PM

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RenegadeX, you missed my point entirely. "Homey" and "homely" are not homonyms. "Homely" and "homely" are. Homely can mean wholesomely down to earth and attractive in a natural way, and can also mean unattractive or even ugly. That's the very dichotomy you were asking about and the very point of this post, isn't it?

The etymology is fairly obvious. Homely starts out meaning "of the home or household, domestic" (as does "homey") then "plain, unadorned, simple" then "plain-looking" and ultimately "inelegant, unrefined, course, unattractive".
Picture a middle-aged chambermaid with warts contrasted with an elegant baroness or beautiful movie star and it's pretty clear how the word evolved to mean unattractive or even ugly. Think Cinderella without the happy ending.

This is exactly the type of evolution that is a perfect example of "homonym".


or just look up "homely" at

As for "homey" vs. "homely", you can form adjectives by adding a -y, or, in some cases, by adding -ly. What's so strange about that? You have two words that are synonyms, one of which has a homonym. Do we really need a word for that?

porsche January 9, 2007 @ 12:51PM

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I tend to think of homey as a shorter version of "home-slice." As in, "What's up homey?!"

bnagel91 January 18, 2007 @ 2:33PM

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It all depends on whether you speak English English or American/Canadian English!

abrit February 26, 2010 @ 5:33PM

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'An' contradiction?
Otherwise, I agree with the sentiment.

Sheep March 22, 2016 @ 5:37PM

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Homely in Ireland and the US mean two completely seperate things. They present two completely different images and even feelings or emotions to the listener.

Homely in Ireland is complimentary it conveys down to earth, grounded and stable. Not too fancy.. as in..."the hotel was a homely little place"
It niether means attractive or unattractive, it does not mean ugly but rather something pleasant and welcoming, it simply conveys a person with a welcoming spirit, a comfortable person.
If referring to a woman..
..she was a homely soul. It is not referring to looks but a feeling or emotion one might get upon comparing woman not in looks but in mannerisms.

It simply means she doesn't act like a slut.

If it refers to looks in any way it would simply mean she's not slutty looking it is more or less how she dresses that makes her homely not her actual facial features or shape or size or hair color.
She's the girl next door. Common, average, but if she wanted to she might pretty herself up just as pretty as any slut if she dared to. But that's not her style she prefers to be homely. She likes being homely. She doesn't want all the attention the slutty girls long for. She's happy and content being nobody. She's homely. She's humble, not seeking fame, not an attention whore, normal like a girl should be. Down to earth, nice to be around, unoffensive, a girl that anyone could converse with, to some guys a homely trait or character can be rather attractive. It does not mean ugly.

Brody December 14, 2016 @ 5:10AM

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