A coop of one’s own.

Dear Word Detective: While reading Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” I came across the word “teacherage.” I’ve long been familiar with the word “parsonage” as the house next to the church where the parson lived but never thought about it as a combination of “parson” and “age” until I saw this new “age” word. My dictionary defines “parsonage” but gives no etymology and doesn’t list “teacherage” at all. Are there other occupations that give their name to places for the practitioner lives? Where’s that “age” come from, anyway? — Chris Nelson.

That’s a darn good question. I’ve never read Mr. Capote’s book myself, and I’m fairly certain I’ve never encountered “teacherage” elsewhere, so it’s a new one on me as well. Apparently “teacherage” isn’t a big blip on dictionaries’ radar at the moment. The online version of The American Heritage Dictionary doesn’t list the word at all, and Merriam-Webster Online, annoyingly, offers to define it for me if I pay five dollars per month to subscribe to their “unabridged” website. Fortunately, I have their unabridged Third New International Dictionary, which defines “teacherage” as “a residence provided for teachers.” Not exactly a revelation, but I did save us five bucks.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED), as usual, comes through with a slightly more illuminating definition (“a house or lodgings provided for a teacher by a school”), as well as the earliest date the term has, so far, been found in print (1916) and, by way of illustration, an intriguing 1968 want ad from the Globe & Mail newspaper in Toronto: “Required immediately, qualified teacher for one-room school… Three-room teacherage available.” Welcome to West Fuhgeddaboudit, eh?

The OED explains that “teacherage” was formed from “teacher” plus the suffix “age” on the model of “parsonage” and “vicarage,” housing provided for parsons and vicars serving a church. The suffix “age” itself can have a variety of meanings in English. It can indicate a relationship to or membership in a type or kind of things, as in “foliage” (leafy things) or “baggage” (whatever “bags” one uses to travel). For words generalized from individual persons, “age” can indicate rank, condition or position, from “baronage” (the state of being a baron) to “bondage” (state of being bound) to “orphanage” (originally “the state of being an orphan”). “Age” can also help form words describing action (“passage,” “usage,” etc.”).

Interestingly, both “parsonage” and “vicarage” initially were used in that second sense, “the state or position of being a parson,” vicar, etc. (“The plaintiff, a clergyman, who at one time had a vicarage at Bow,” 1884). The later use of both words to mean “residence” was an outgrowth of the “rights and duties” sense of both terms. But both “parsonage” and “vicarage” date back to the 15th century, and evidently by the time “teacherage” appeared, it was applied only to the teacher’s residence, and not to the “office or condition” of being a teacher.

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