A Highfalutin View Of a Lowly Patch of Land
There is nothing like the roof over one's head for bringing out the snob in one. Even car-ownership comes nowhere near to having this effect, being, on the whole, less subtle. And, because where you live is such an indicator of who-you-think-you-are, the vocabulary that attaches to home-buying and home-inhabiting is a peculiar minefield of nuance and suggestive meanings.
I hear that American TV-viewers have taken a dreadful English sitcom to heart of late. It makes one ashamed to be English. The show is called ''Keeping Up Appearances'' and stars an impossibly exaggerated personage called Mrs Bucket. When she answers the phone in her modest house, she invariably says: ''The Bouquet Residence.''
French-derived words have, at least as far back as 1066 when the Normans overran England, been ''superior'' or courtly, as opposed to the earthiness of our native words. Thus ''reside at'' instead of ''live in,'' ''stomach'' instead of ''belly,'' ''mutton'' instead of ''sheep-meat.''
The opportunities for snobbery (and humor) offered by this two-tier word systems are something we British are evidently loath to abandon. Particularly when it comes to houses and gardens.
Just downwind of our patch there used to be a bank of scrub and grass with its feet in a bog - a touch of wilderness in the burb.
Now - as announced by a large sign erected without legal constraints - this small piece of earth has become ''Sherbrooke Gardens, a Prestigious Development of Luxury Five-Bedroom Homes.''
You can be certain that the new ''residents'' of these ''properties'' will have allowed themselves (desire makes us vulnerable) to at least half-believe this short sentence, when the fact is that it would be hard to concoct a string of 10 words of greater terminological inexactitude in a year of Sundays. House builders know their words - oh yes! But what they apparently do not realize is that their favorite verbal persuaders tend to have highly dubious backgrounds.
To analyze: ''Sherbrooke'' has been borrowed from the tree-and-mansion-lined, late 19th-century avenue whose discreet old elegance has been spoiled by the addition of the brash new housing scheme. Possibly, like the English town Sherborne, its name connotes ''Bright Stream.'' If so, the soggy bog it has become has little more connection with such words than the word ''gardens'' (from the French) does.
''Prestigious'' is a word in which the approbation of others is a primary necessity. Advertising terminology should thus preclude its use, since self-approval is no commendation. Besides, ''prestigious'' (from the French) is a word that actually means ''illusion'' and ''trickery.'' I rest my case.
''Development,'' whatever its excellent musical connotations, might be thought a bland word, perhaps. But not as used here. Here, at the Gardens, it is meant to sound up-market, with suggestions of grandeur and extension, of spacious acres and generous lawns.
To describe 17 houses crammed on a land parcel where seven would be crowded is surely to misappropriate a word that - in spite of its French origins - generally has a non-emotive usefulness.
''Luxury,'' obviously, is meant to convey opulence, ease, piled carpets, wealth. The only wealth involved here is the preconditional state of the clientele (''buyers'' is a pure, old English word, and therefore inappropriate here), since by any standards these nouveaux domiciles are priced beyond reasonableness. Besides which, the French-derived word ''luxury,'' not to put too fine a point on it, means ''lust'' or ''excess.'' Need I say more?
''Five-bedroom'' is a claim that is simply checked out by the expedient of taking a small pet dog into the minuscule cube designated bedroom No. 5 and asking it to turn round. It backs out on discovering there isn't even room to lie down. The only ''lying'' involved in connection with this room is of a different meaning.
AND finally, ''homes.'' This is an interesting one. It is not French in origin, anymore than ''house'' is. Yet it is noticeable that the builders of new houses increasingly use ''home'' in place of ''house.'' Probably just because it seems cozier: The saying, after all, is not ''keep the house fires burning'' and the song is not ''House, house on the range.''
What the ''developers'' don't quite remember to tell you, however, is that whereas you may (if you have the cash) be able to buy one of their houses, you cannot buy a home.
A home is what homemakers make, not what house-builders build, whatever they say. And even if they do say it in words borrowed from France.