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Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

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Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

24-Hour Proofreading Service—We proofread your Google Docs or Microsoft Word files. We hate grammatical errors with a passion. Learn More

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 Dec-31-2006

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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 Jan-01-2007

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^ such as? I can't think of any such examples off the top of my head, other than slang terms.

RenegadeX1 Jan-02-2007

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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 Jan-02-2007

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I grew up (in Los Angeles) with your definitions, and thought "homely" was synonymous with even more negative adjectives ("ugly", for instance), but when I moved to the UK I quickly learned that it only has one meaning here, and that is the one that is equivalent to the US "homey".

Kari_Pearson Jan-04-2007

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Just off the top of my head, but I have always associated the positive use of homely as British, while Americans either use homey or another word entirely.

ghoti1 Jan-04-2007

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I used it to compliment a girl who I thought was sweet and nice, and would make a good wife. My friend said, "Homely? You mean she's fat?".

Steve1 Jan-05-2007

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kari & ghoti: Yes - that's actually correct. I checked a couple of my trusty old made-in-England English dictionaries and they do state that "homely" meaning "unattractive" is an Ameriecan thing.

porsche: One problem with your comparative example ("cleave") - the two words I'm discussing ("homey" and "homely") are not homonyms.

Unlike the homonym (and auto-antonym) "cleave" (or similarly, "venery", as found within the link you provided), "homey" and "homely" not only have different spellings but they have distinctly different pronunciations.

and of course then they have the further distinction that the two words can be both synonyms and antonyms of each other.

I suppose the (distinct?) British vs American usages of the words means that natives of each should never get confused when talking amongst themselves. However, just my luck - I'm in Canada - and I'm sure you all know what that means..

Still can't think of any similar word-pairings, nor was I successful in finding a term for this 'phenomenon'.

RenegadeX1 Jan-09-2007

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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 Jan-09-2007

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

Gregg_Nagel Jan-18-2007

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"Homely" means "ugly" in the US, "homey" in the UK. It's as simple as that.

bubbha Jan-23-2007

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While I agree with use and use homey to describe something comfy my dictionary describes homely as unsophisticated and unpretentious as well as a person of unattractive appearance.

So I guess those two meanings are similar - because a homey home would be one that isn't all fancy and showy right?

Melissa3 Jan-24-2007

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I have an interesting little bit to add on the subject of contradicting meanings for a word. I studied Old English for a semester in college and I learned that while we say "good, better, best" in Modern English, they said "god, beter, selest" in Old English (or something like that). The etymological connection between words like god/good, beter/better is pretty clear. They sound similar, have similar spellings etc. But what about selest/best? the -est ending is there, indicating the English superlative, but it's hard to see how selest evolved in best. Well, as my professor in college explained, it didn't. Selest later on came to carry a meaning along the lines of "holy" or "blessed" and eventually gave us the Modern English word "silly," which has a vastly different meaning from the original selest. Still, I can see how the meaning of the form evolved from 'best' to 'blessed' and then, the spiritual connotations of blessed giving the meaning of the word a nuance of unhumanness or abnormality, 'silly.' I think it's an interesting lexical history and illustrates how meanings can stay the same over the ages, but the way speakers of the language interpret those meanings (a product of the contemporary zeitgeist [haha i just said zeitgeist]) can change. Same thing I think with the homely-homely homonym pair. Same word, same meaning, different interpretations for different situations and by different people in different times and places.

AO Jan-25-2007

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This all news to me. In Britain, 'homely' means comfortable and relaxing. I didn't realise that in American, it has a different, negative meaning. Interesting.

David5 Jan-29-2007

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Actually, in UK English, 'homely' can mean, if referring to a home, comfortable, pleasant, nice to live in; indeed, lived in; and this is generally used as a compliment. It could, in the mouth of someone who lives in a chic minimalist NY loft, be an insult, of course!

If referring to a person, it is more likely to have a mildly pejorative meaning: a woman who is 'homely' is comfortable, pleasant... lived in! This would generally mean a fairly plain person, who does not dress smartly, or make herself sexually attractive. It could equally be a compliment though - it may be just what you are looking for in a maternal character, for example.

I have never personally heard 'homey' used in UK English at all. I would consider it to be an entirely American English word.

Sian May-20-2007

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I just wanted to add that I grew up (in CA) with my parents (now in their 70s) using homely as a polite way of saying plain and/or unattractive. (I would add that this is gender-specific; no one ever describes a boy as homely.) Around the same time I was reading period books describing attractive girls as comely. To keep 'em straight in my head, I figured if a boy thought a girl was pretty, he would want her to come to the dance with him, and if she were not so attractive, he'd want her to go home.

Anyhow, aside from my parents, I don't really run into people using homely any more (no one is tactful these days).

warrior_rabbit May-21-2007

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Fascinating that almost a year after this site was started, the show "Relocation/Relocation" should feature today that very situation from Cornwall, England. Like the originator of the thread, I live in Canada and was amused at the contradiction...enough to Google it. While I can't imagine him still returning to this thread, I'd like to supply an similar strangeness in English: "a fat chance and a slim chance amount to virtually no chance."

whj_wilco Nov-19-2007

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I am British and have always understood 'homely' to mean cosy etc
but it is often used sarcastically.
Its a complete tip.
Too much chintz.
Its very small and reminiscent of a workers cottage.
This place cant have changed in 50 years.

As is well-known I think,the British frequently appear to be being polite while scoffing underneath.

A_bit_Irish Aug-13-2008

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

Phil1 Feb-26-2010

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

Sheep Mar-22-2016

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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 Dec-14-2016

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I came here as a result of a Google search for "homey vs homely" because I saw a vlog on YouTube where the YouTuber visited her mother in a care home in Canada (which they apparently call nursing homes) and when she noted that her mother's room in the nursing home wasn't very homey, I got the same reaction you got when you saw the estate agent's client complimenting the property by calling it homely.

I was screaming at my mobile (in my head, not aloud) "don't you mean homely?" and of course, that's when I did the Google search to find out that the connotations between the two words are completely topsy turvy across the pond, which is the same as saying they're flipped at a 180° angle.

Here in the UK, someone who is homey is plain and boring, the opposite being a social butterfly or the life of the party. Homely is the word you want to use for a space that's warm and inviting.

user109003 Jul-08-2020

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I would think the astonishment would come from your usage. No, I have never heard of homely as a synonym of homey. I can understand how it could be. Ly usually means like when added to the end of a word, so like home, homely. It has been used to mean unattractive quite commonly and so would be impolite in certain circles as there is no need to embarrass or demean others, beauty is only skin deep. That saying. What is beyond beauty? Well, I guess warmth and love.

user110775 Apr-28-2021

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