Sunday, January 3, 2010

Build a building, house a housing?

In today's "Pickles," by Brian Crane, Nelson wonders why a building isn't called a "build."

But Nelson is many centuries too late with his peeve. The OED has the noun building dated to the 13th century:

1297 R. GLOUC. 271 And (th)er nas of olde house in (th)e lond non, (th)at he ne amendede mid som lond, o(th)er mid byldynge.
c1430 Syr Gener. 244 This belding we made here Is for you.  
1553 EDEN Treat. New Ind. (Arb.) 14 It ... hath in it very fayre byldinges.  
1611 BIBLE Eccles. x. 18 By much slouthfulnesse the building decayeth.

The dictionary also has two 14th-century cites for build meaning "building" (now obsolete), and of course it lists build meaning "form" ("he has a powerful build"), though it hasn't yet caught up with build = version of software.

Already in Old English, the OED says, words ending in -ing had moved on from being "nouns of action" to expressing "a completed action, a process, habit, or art," as in blessing, learning, wedding.

From this stage, some -ing nouns came to denote

a material thing in which the action or its result is concreted or embodied; as 'a writing was affixed to the wall'; so a covering, holding, landing, shaving, winding (of a river), etc. A peculiar instance is a being, one wherein the attribute of being or existence is exemplified, now usually a living being.

But this is only one of eight groups into which the OED sorts verbal nouns according to their sense. There are also nouns of "continuous action or existence" (crying), of "practice, habit, or art" (fencing, smoking),  of collective designation (clothing, carpeting), and so on. Poor Nelson wants a simple answer, but he hasn't asked a simple question.


John Cowan said...

Build 'version of software' is directly derived from build 'act of building software from the source code', though this is probably not known outside the programmer community (to which I belong).

Anonymous said...

Soothfast, there was an early noun shape of build in OE and ME it was bold ... BOLD, es; n. I. a building, dwelling, house
Wæs ðæt bold tobrocen swíðe — the dwelling was much shattered (Beowulf Th. 1998; B. 997.)
Ðǽr ic wíc báge, bold mid bearnum — where I inhabit a dwelling, a house with children (Exon. 104 b; Th. 396, 23; Rä. 16, 9).
ME ... In erþ is þi mold..Er erþe go to erþe, bild þi long bold. (Earth Upon Earth)