In the House of Sickness and Health

In this post I’m going to talk a little about words relating to sickness and good health. I will also speak about the word “house” and its uses in this topic area.


House” is a pretty handy word. It doesn’t just mean “place where you live”. It can also mean, amongst other things, “a building associated with or used for a specified activity, purpose, or occupation”. In this way, it often (in effect) functions akin to Latinate –ary and is very productive:

courthouse, dosshouse, guesthouse, lighthouse, workhouse, warehouse, slaughterhouse.

However, it seems to be shied away from these days, with formations in –house often being replaced. For example, the above mentioned “slaughterhouse” is often rendered “abattoir”. [NOTE 1] Likewise, what were known in the nineteenth century as “deadhouses” are now euphemistically called “mortuaries”.

Now, I understand the sensitivity to death which gives rise to euphemistic formations such as “mortuary” (and “casket”, “deceased”, “abattoir”, and so on). And Anglish must also provide euphemisms, as euphemisms are a legitimate and important part of language. However, the problem is that “mortuary” has taken over and is no longer even euphemistic. I’d rather call a “spade” a “spade” and just say “deadhouse”, but if we feel the need to use a euphemism we could easily form them on English roots. Perhaps “gonehouse”, “lefthouse”, “Hereafter’s waiting room”; it isn’t difficult to think of potential alternatives.

Mental Illness

Let’s move on now from death to sickness. Firstly, to the phrase “mental illness”. “Mental”, of course, is Latin, and therefore no good for Anglish. So what can we call it? Let’s start by not trying to simplistically make a morpheme-by-morpheme translation of this phrase; let’s instead think about what the phrase “mental illness” actually means. Well, it is sickness of the mind, not the body. So it seems to me that “mental illness” can easily be glossed as “mind-sickness”. “Mentally ill” would therefore be “mind-sick”.

What is the name of the place where we often put mentally ill people? In Englandish we call it a “mental asylum” – more Latin! – but in Anglish we can already say “madhouse”. The problem is that “madhouse” seems somewhat pejorative (just as “whorehouse” seems to be; “brothel” being the “respectable” word [NOTE 2]). I personally have suffered mental health issues, and I have no qualms using the word “mad” of my own predicament; it was (is) my way of using humour to brush off the situation (‘Oh, I’m quite mad, don’t you know(!)’). But I appreciate that not everyone would want to handle their experience of mental illness in the same way. So let’s try to think of another word to replace “mental asylum”. Well, why not let’s, instead of saying “mad”, use what we have already come up  with – mindsick – and use “house” as we have been (that is, “a building associated with a specific activity, purpose, or occupation”): thus, a mental asylum is a “mindsickhouse“.

Physical Illness

Now, sicknesses of the mind are one thing, and another thing is sicknesses of the body. So where should these bodily sick people go? Well, a sickhouse“, no? Or, as Englandish would have it, a “hospital”.

Incidentally, “sickhouseis the word used in Swedish (sjukhus from sjuk ‘sick’ + hus ‘house’ [NOTE 3])

 One person who tends to you in sickhouses is the doctor. The word “doctor” entered our language around 1300, and by the late 14th century had come to mean “medical professional”. It essentially ousted our own word, “leech”, which has also stuck around in Swedish to the present day as läkare. I must confess that I’m so addled with Old and Middle English, so full of ye-diddly-de and hast thou-speak, that I’m not sure if “leech” is too far gone from our language so as to be unrehabilitatable. It does seem to have had some serious use until the nineteenth century, and continues even now as a jocular form amongst somewhat bookish types. However, “doctor” is, I would say, pretty well understood, and I’d reckon that 99 per cent of people on the street would never have heard of “leech” with the doctorly meaning.

The word for “doctor” is important as it leads us onto terms for other health professionals. For example, what do we call “dentists”? In Swedish the one says tandläkare, “toothleech”. But, as I say, I feel that leech is probably too far gone, and “doctor” is now so normal a word that we might be best to say “toothdoctor”. What about other types of medical professional, the podiatrists, psychiatrists, and even vetinarians? We should really think about these groups of professionals as a whole instead up coming up with individual terms piecemeal, but it is easy enough to see how plain English alternatives could be found; for example, footdoctor, minddoctor, and animaldoctor.

But let’s leave the names of professions for a separate posting, and instead move back to houses.

Spiritual Maladies

Sickness of the mind? Check. Sickness of the body? Check. Sickness of the soul?

The word “house”, unqualified and plain, can actually mean “religious building, house of God”. However, in this meaning it is usually put in the phrase “house of god”. The natural compound noun is, therefore, “godhouse” or “godshouse”. This is a good example of where using English roots can give us a neat word that we do not have an equivalent for in Englandish. What term do we have that covers churches, cathedrals, mosques, masjids, temples, and so on, if not “house of god”? Thus, godhouse.

General Health, Diet

Moving away from ailments and on to aspects of life which may or may not have health implications, I want to list some more formations using “house”.

Alongside “slaughterhouse” and “deadhouse” (as being “house” words ousted from English) are “bakehouse” and “deyhouse” which have now completely been replaced by “bakery” and “dairy”. The ending -(e)ry is from French. I find “bakehouse” quite a strong and admirably plain word; it is, if nothing else, a house of baking. But what is a “dey”? You might as well ask what a “dairy” is (which uses the same root, “dey”, but with a minor spelling change from <y> to <i>).

A “dey” is a female servant or maid (particularly one working in dairy), and the word is related to “dough”. The Oxford English Dictionary says “dey” is still around in “parts of Scotland” (how delightfully vague!) But anyway, the point is that bakehouse and deyhouse are good, plain, Anglish alternatives to current “bakery” and “dairy”.

There are several other extant -house words which have some bearing on our diet:

teahouse, coffeehouse, curryhouse.

Interestingly, there are a profusion of words for “place where primarily coffee is consumed”, and I am going to go off on a slight tangent now to discuss them. These words are: coffeehouse, coffee shop, café, caff/caffie and its synonym “greasy spoon (café/caff/caffie)”. The difference in meaning between these words is quite interesting and I believe not fully settled – an opportunity to set them in an Anglish mould, perhaps(!)

In my area (working classWest London), a caff/caffie, known as a “greasy spoon” by some, is the “traditional” English café with tea, breakfast, and so on, primarily focusing on food. “Café” refers more to a coffee house of some good quality (or supposed good quality); say, café rouge. And a “coffee shop” is a populist coffee drinking house which is not primarily for food (as a caff is), such as Costa, Nero, or Starbucks. All three types (caffs, cafés, and coffee shops) collectively are known as “coffee houses”.

Now, like I say, this is not a settled or universal usage, but it is an understanding of the terms which seems to extend beyond my own bedroom rooms and close friends, at least. In any case, it is three quite different, albeit closely related, types of establishment. So how we would render these words (concepts) into Anglish? Well caffs are already known as “greasy spoons”, which is pure English; Starbucks et al are already “coffee shops”, the latter word being English and the former being the word borrowed by a great deal of languages; and café could remain “café” or else become “European coffee shop”; and “coffee house”, the overterm for all three things, could remain as it is.

Final Thoughts

House is a useful pseudo-suffix whose use can be extended beyond just places relating to sickness and health. For example, “library” could easily be rendered “bookhouse”, “restaurant” could be “foodhouse”, and many other words besides are already attested: brewhouse (brewery), playhouse (theatre), filmhouse (cinema), distilling-house (distillery), eating-house (restaurant), bath-house, tap-house, and so on.

Often, a subtly different word can be made by using “shop” versus “house” where this is appropriate (e.g. coffeeshop vs. coffeehouse), or by using “room” (e.g. bookroom vs. bookhouse, where the latter is perhaps a public library houses in a building, whereas the former is a private or subscription-only library based in a room or a small number of rooms).

I see no real need for -ery or -eria (pizzeria, cafeteria, and so on) when we have words such as “house”, “shop”, and “room” to take their stead. 


Bryan Parry

April 2012



abattoir slaughterhouse

bakery bakehouse

brewery brewhouse

cafe coffee shop; coffeehouse; greasy spoon

cinema filmhouse

dairy deyhouse

dentist toothdoctor, toothleech

distillery distilling-house

doctor leech

eria house

ery house

hospital sickhouse

library bookhouse, bookroom

mental asylum mindsickhouse

mentally ill mind-sick

mental illness mind-sickness

mortuary deadhouse

prostitute whore; (euph.) working girl, working man

restaurant foodhouse, eating-house

theatre playhouse

vet animal-doctor, deerleech [NOTE 4]


[NOTE 1] “Abattoir” is a euphemism I find rather distasteful since it further removes us from the reality of what is going on, that is, the slaughter of animals. And I do not mean to say that I am against the slaughter of animals, for I am not, but I think it’s important to recognise, respect, and remember where these little parcels of meat come from. Dressing it all up in words like “abattoir” smacks of being an animal equivalent of something like “collateral damage”.

[NOTE 2] We do also have other euphemisms and humorous formations such as “knocking-shop” and “knocking-house”, of course.

[NOTE 3] They also say “läsaret”, the etymology of which I do not know. Someone care to enlighten me?

[NOTE 4] Deer is the homeborn word for “animal”, still used in other Germanic languages (e.g. Swedish djur); the original word for “deer”, therefore, is actually hart.


9 Responses to In the House of Sickness and Health

  1. þ says:

    Good stuff.

    Just three suggestions, which are really only additions to think about:

    1) Restaurant could be “mealhouse”, which I think works well.
    2) Doctor could be “healer”, although maybe that’s too simplistic. It does also suggest nurse as “carer” though, maybe?
    3) Animal can also be translated by “wight”, which has the upside of not currently being much used, but the downside of, well, not currently being much used.

    PS I *love* “filmhouse” and “playhouse” as words, and also “brewhouse” and “bakehouse”. They just have a feel about them, you know? Like you’ve said something so basic and easy to understand, like they were meant to be.

  2. bryanajparry says:

    Hi there, glad you like the post.

    Yeah, “mealhouse” is a really good one, actually. I think I like it more than my “foodhouse”. (Incidentally, and for the record, “eating-house” is attested).

    “Healer” is good, but perhaps misses a lot of nuance and comes over a bit folksy. But I wouldn’t rule it out off the bat. “Carer” for “nurse” I believe fits better still.

    I’m not so keen on “wight” to translate “animal”, mainly because it usually seems to edge toward the human instead of the animal. Personally, I use it more-or-less as a dirct equiv. of “creature”, that is a living being, excluding plantlife and that.

    Yeah. I really like a lot of the words in this post, e.g. mind-sickhouse, but there is something altogether wholesome and, as Monty Python have it, “woody” about bakehouse and co. in particular.

  3. þ says:

    That’s it! “Woody English”, no more tinny words, only woody ones from now on!

  4. […] can also include words that are no longer in use, such as deadhouse (mortuary). A word such as “ghostfire”, one suggestion for a true Saxon alternative to […]

  5. TaoSamurai says:

    A (much) belated answer to your call for aid!

    Swedish *lasarett, according to this page (link below), comes (by way of German) from the name of an Italian plague-hospital (“plaguehouse”?) named “Santa Maria di Nazaret”.

    Commonly known as “Nazareto”, the n>l sound shift (though I think it rather common, at least through my experience of Chinese) was brought on by analogy of ‘lazzaro’ meaning a sick and destitute man (referencing biblical Lazarus).

    In the form lazaretto, this word then came to mean any hosptal in general, and was later picked up by German, whence I daresay roughly a third of Swedish loanwords hail.

    Reference link (in Swedish):

  6. […] we all call it an “outhouse” — Saxon wins yet again. And we see again how great -house […]

  7. Dhruv Rohatgi says:

    Brian, I think you are wrong about the ery ending .The germanic “tongues” I know of german and dutch use it .For eg. in dutch boerderij meaning farm and in german Bäckerei and Brauerei

    • bryanajparry says:

      Hi Dhruv, thank you for the post. The suffix -ery does indeed come from French. English isn’t the only language to borrow it. Please refer to the OED.

      “Middle English -erie, forming ns., first occurs in words adopted from French, and after the analogy of these has been extensively used as an English formative.”

      However, it is possible that in a few small number of cases, it is derived from -er + -y.

      In any case, “brewery” and “bakery” replaced the older formations “brewhouse” and “bakehouse” on the analogy of the French ending.

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