Cottage - Origin of The Term

Origin of The Term

Originally in the Middle Ages, cottages housed agricultural workers and their friends and families. The term cottage denoted the dwelling of a cotter. Thus, cottages were smaller peasant units (larger peasant units being called messuages). In that early period, a documentary reference to a cottage would most often mean, not a small stand-alone dwelling as today, but a complete farmhouse and yard (albeit a small one).

Thus, in the Middle Ages, the word cottage (MLat cotagium) denoted not just a dwelling, but included at least a dwelling (domus) and a barn (grangia), as well as, usually, a fenced yard or piece of land enclosed by a gate (portum). The word is probably a blend of Old English cot, cote "hut" and Old French cot "hut, cottage", from Old Norse kot "hut". Examples of this may be found in 15th century manor court rolls. The house of the cottage bore the Latin name: "domum dicti cotagii", while the barn of the cottage was termed "grangia dicti cotagii".

Later on, "cottage" might also have denoted a smallholding comprising houses, outbuildings, and supporting farmland or woods. A cottage, in this sense, would typically include just a few acres of tilled land. Regional examples of this type included the Welsh Tŷ unnos or House in a night, built by squatters on a plot of land defined by the throw of an axe from each corner of the property. Much later (from around the 18th century onwards), the development of industry led to the development of weavers' cottages and miners' cottages.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term cottage is used in North America to represent 'a summer residence (often on a large and sumptuous scale) at a watering-place or a health or pleasure resort' with its first recognised use dating to 1882, in reference to Bar Harbor in Maine.

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