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shameless pleading






It’s not infested. It comes with free pets.

Dear Word Detective: What is the derivation of the word “realtor”? When was it first used? — Bill Rozich.

Those are good questions, Bill, but before we begin, I’ve just been handed a bulletin from our resident lawyer, Boots the Cat. Bill, you’re in a heap o’ trouble. You spelled that word correctly (many folks seem to think it’s “real-a-tor”), but you didn’t capitalize it, which is a major legal no-no. According to the National Association of Realtors, “The term ‘REALTOR’ is a registered collective membership mark that identifies a real estate professional who is a member of the ‘NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS’.” Whoa. Those folks sure love those capital letters; literally every time the word “Realtor” appears on their website it’s in ALL CAPS. Anyway, only those who pony up dues to the NAR can call themselves “Realtors,” a term the NAR trademarked in 1949. I guess the rest of those house-floggers in dorky blazers are just “real estate agents.”

The roots of “realtor” (which I’m now going to stop capitalizing in hopes of annoying the NAR) are fairly straightforward, but the invention of the word itself spawned an interesting tussle. Let’s talk about the tussle first. Keep in mind that this was all way before the advent of television, back when people had the time (and brain cells) to ponder such things.

It all began back in 1916, when C.N. Chadbourn, Chairman of the National Association of Real Estate Boards (precursor of the NAR), declared, “I propose that the National Association adopt a professional title to be conferred upon its members which they shall use to distinguish them from outsiders… the title of ‘realtor’ (accented on the first syllable).” Since distinguishing oneself from “outsiders” is just about the world’s oldest hobby, “realtor” was born.

Today we’re used to companies and groups copyrighting or trademarking invented words. But back then this “realtor” business apparently rubbed quite a few folks the wrong way. Sinclair Lewis, in his classic novel “Babbitt” (1922), took a dig at the appeal of “realtor,” having Babbitt himself declare, “We ought to insist that folks call us ‘realtors’ and not ‘real-estate men.’ Sounds more like a reg’lar profession.”

That same year of 1922, the provenance of “realtor” became an issue on the floor of the US House of Representatives. Rep. Raker, a Democrat of California, was speaking about possible rent increases in the District of Columbia when he was interrupted by Rep. Curry (R-Ca.), who asked if he knew the roots of “realtor.” Curry went on to explain that the word “comes from the Spanish words ‘real’ meaning ‘royal’ and ‘tor’ meaning ‘bull’.” According to the New York Times of May 18, 1922, Mr. Raker, shouting to be heard above the uproar on the House floor, responded, “And that’s just what these realtors have been giving us in saying there’d be no rent increases.”

This “royal bull” etymology of “realtor” caught the attention of the journalist and lexicographer H.L. Mencken, who dismissed it in his magisterial The American Language (1923). Mencken characterized “realtor” as a classically American euphemism for the lowly “real estate agent,” and noted that the suffix “or” was undoubtedly carefully chosen, since “or” has always carried more dignity and prestige than the equivalent “er,” citing “author” as weightier than “writer” and “advisor” socially outgunning “adviser.” He also noted that the approved pronunciation of “realtor” is “reel-tor,” rather than “ree-al-tor.”

Oh, right, the actual origins of “realtor”? It’s simply the fragment “realt” from “realty” with that dignified agent suffix “or” tacked on. “Realty,” which originally meant simply the quality of being “real,” took on the meaning of “real, immovable property” (such as land, houses, etc.) in the 17th century, and by the 19th century was being used to mean simply “real estate” as we use that term now.

5 comments to Realtor

  • @kaylawildflower

    I was a REALTOR for seven years, yet ironically, I feel like the only one of my colleagues that took our training admonition seriously, to always capitalize REALTOR.

    I just heard the term used on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, and doubted it had been invented by the 1920’s, but you proved me wrong!

  • Nate


    In the laws of the United States of America, the ‘real’ in ‘real estate’ means relating to a thing (res/’rei’, thing, from O.Fr. ‘reel’, from L.L. ‘realis’ ‘actual’, from Latin. ‘res’, ‘matter, thing’),[3] as distinguished from a person. Thus the law broadly distinguishes between ‘real’ property (land and anything affixed to it) and ‘personal’ property or chattels (everything else, e.g., clothing, furniture, money). The conceptual difference was between ‘immovable property’, which would transfer title along with the land, and ‘movable property’, which a person could lawfully take and would retain title to on disposal of the land.
    The oldest document using a term recognizable as ‘real estate’ in historical records is dated 1605.[1] This use of ‘real’ also reflects the ancient feudal customs in relation to land and the ownership (and owners) thereof, introduced into England over 500 years earlier, by William the Conqueror in 1066.
    Some people have claimed that the word ‘real’ in this sense is descended (like French ‘royal’ and Spanish ‘real’) from the Latin word for ‘king’. In the feudal system (which has left many traces in the common law) the king was the owner of all land, and everyone who occupied land paid him rent directly or indirectly (through lords who in turn paid the king), in cash, goods, or services (including military service). Property tax, paid to the state, can be seen as a relic of that system, as too is the term fee simple. Some say this derivation is a misconception;[4] but that is countered by evidence that the earliest meaning of ‘real’ in English included “Of, relating to, or characteristic of a monarch, royalty, or (by extension) the nobility, esp. with regard to power, wealth, or dignity; (also) befitting a monarch.”[5]
    Additionally, there is evidence that the earliest meaning of ‘real’ in English included “Having an objective existence; actually existing physically as a thing, substantial; not imaginary.”[6] which supports the statement in the first paragraph of this section on the Etymology of the term ‘real estate’ that ‘real’ = ‘relating to a thing…as distinguished from a person’. However, it needs to be borne in mind that the time between the Norman Conquest and the earliest recorded documentary appearance of ‘real estate’ allowed for both meanings of the word ‘real’ to gain common currency in verbal and written use in England, as individual words; and for the term ‘real estate’ to gain common currency in verbal and written use with the word ‘real’ in it having the same meanings, or, one, or even more, different meanings, to when it was used on its own; but of which there is no specific, historical documentary evidence.[7]
    On that basis, the reason for these several possible meanings of ‘real’ in relation to ‘real estate’ may have been that not all of England and Wales became ‘real estate’ in the ‘royal’ sense by reason only of the Norman Conquest. The Domesday Book provides evidence that some holdings of land in England and Wales remained in the hands of people, who were not the king. In other words, they were allodial land. Two main classes of that allodial land are distinguishable, by inference and synthesis, from, the Domesday Book; the passage and enforcement of the Act of Supremacy 1534 and Laws in Wales Acts 1535-1542 by Henry VIII of England; Welsh Law prior to 1535; and the history of Probate in England and Wales; namely, that of the Roman Catholic Church, and that of the parts of Wales where the custom known as ‘dadunnedd’ under Welsh Law applied.
    Another etymological consequence of those radical measures by Henry VIII was that the expression ‘real estate’ became an official English expression, and the English ‘law of real estate’ became the official real estate law of England and Wales, because the Laws in Wales Acts 1535-1542 included clauses requiring that, upon the day appointed by the statute, and thereafter, no law or language other than those of England shall be used in the courts of England and Wales. This meant that the laws of the Roman Catholic Church and of the former Welsh kings were eradicated from use throughout England and Wales. The clauses concerning language were repealed by Elizabeth II in 1993, to facilitate use of minority languages in the courts of England and Wales as the populations of those nations had by then become multi-cultural, because those clauses infringed the human rights of the people that spoke them.
    English Real Estate Law recognises rights of way, etc., on land beyond the limits of the subject land, including rights of passage and repassage over other lands, including such parts of those other lands between the high and low water marks of tidal waters adjoinging them, for use by the king of the subject land and his servants and assigns for the purposes of travel and transportation, subject to the rule, ‘All that the king has is the right of passage and repassage for himself and his subjects.’ Such rights of passage and repassage were known as the ‘King’s Highways’,[8] or, as nowadays, the ‘Queen’s Highways’, depending on the gender of the monarch, and have a history in England stretching back to at least the year 859 of the modern era[9] and at least the C14th in Wales,[10][11][12] though there is evidence that it was much earlier than both.[13]
    Such antiquity and the origins and purposes of the Law of Hywel Dda, and of its supposed blessing by the Pope, strongly suggests that the concept of ‘the King’s Highways’ in law may have originated in the days of the Roman Empire after Christianity became its official religion, and that the ‘king’ in ‘King’s Highways’ meant the Son of God, in his capacity as the ‘King of Kings’, and that it meant all of the earth above sea level apart from the rivers and lakes on it, because, as Christianity teaches, he can walk on water, and that ‘real estate’ originally meant all of the earth and all objects and life on and in it, as that is what Christianity teaches to be his inheritance. It is evidence from the period of the Crusades in Europe that pilgrims, adherents, servants and soldiers of the Roman Catholic Church had similar rights throughout over most, if not all, of that continent, and of parts of the Middle East and North Africa, which again suggests that they originated in the days of the Roman Empire after Christianity became its official religion and originally meant all of that land, not just narrow strips of it.
    So, the land designated in law over which such travel and transportation rights of passage and repassage for a king and his subjects existed could be a candidate for the ‘real’ in ‘real estate’ meaning ‘relating to a thing, distinguished from a person’, the ‘thing’ being the lawful entitlement ‘title’ of the king and his subjects to the use and enjoyment of those rights of passage and repassage. But the term ‘highways’ is the lawful name of such strips of land in Britain. The earliest legal document containing a word that is recognizably ‘highway’ was the one in the year 859[9] mentioned above.
    Though frequently used in official documents, such as property deeds and court records in England for many centuries in common law, the first statutory law of highways was the Highways Act 1555 by Elizabeth I of England, the second daughter of Henry VIII, who sought to rectify the confusion that her sister, Mary I of England, caused by attempting to reinstate the status of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales because she became a Roman Catholic in order to marry Philip of Spain. Until then, with only one exception, namely the Statute of Bridges, the law of highways in England and Wales had relied solely upon the common law of England (and before 1535, on the separate common law of those two nations, hence Henry VIII’s need to eradicate the common law of Wales on 1535).
    The reign of Elizabeth I is particularly noteworthy as the start of the growth and development of the British Empire beyond the shores of Great Britain; and, the word ‘highway’ became common currency wherever English was spoken in those parts of the world. Vast tracts of land became regarded as highways in these new territories where wide, open space was common, such as the routes of pony-express riders, wagon trains, cattle droves and gold miners in North America, and, where settlement occurred, roads and streets were formed by the inhabitants under the provisions of the Highways Acts 1555 and 1562, and, any immigrant allowed access to those parts of the world via their borders became regarded as subjects of the Crown of Great Britain for the duration of such visa granted by the border authority, and thus entitled to the use and enjoyment of those highways, roads and streets.
    Great Britain retained such rights of passage and repassage for the Sovereign Head of Great Britain and its subjects for the purposes of travel and transportation in, over and across land comprising its former territory overseas when those lands became independent of Great Britain, by declaring them highways before they were awarded independence, such as in the British territories that became independent of Britain in the United States of America due to the American Revolutionary War and Peace of Paris (1783).
    According to the Wikipedia article on allodial land, there is no longer any allodial land in England and Wales. Therefore, it follows that all of England and Wales is now ‘real estate’ in the ‘royal’ sense, and Great Britain no longer has any need to retain any currency for the ‘relating to a thing, distinguished from a person’ sense in Britain except as an academic interest in the history of the land law of Britain, and only to ensure currency of the ‘highway’ sense in the territories outside Great Britain, such as its former colonies in the United States of America.
    The need for departure from the ‘royal’ sense of ‘real estate’ in the United States of America sprang from the British Crown’s abandonment of any claims to its territories in the United States of America by the Treaty of Paris, 1783; but, events that had happened in England and Wales since the Fall of the Roman Empire had consequences in the United States of America both before and after its former British territories acquired independence from Britain, to this day, which are worthy of note in the context of the meaning, protection and assertion of the ‘real estate’ of Great Britain throughout the world, but in the United States of America in particular.
    The connection between king and church throughout history since Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire is the reason for those consequences. Whilst Christianity believes that God can be and is everywhere at once throughout the universe, it is not physically possible for a king to be everywhere at once on all parts of his kingdom and throughout the rest of the world to superintend all of the ‘real estate’ in the ‘royal’ sense, of all of the property and rights of passage and repassage entrusted to him until, as Christianity believes, the ‘king of kings’, in the form of the resurrected Son of God, returns to reclaim God’s kingdom on earth and rule over it.
    The Roman solution to this dilemma had been typically organisational: partitioning its empire into divisions and appointing suitably qualified and trusted persons for the purpose of superintending those divisions and the development of settlements, roads, bridges, etc. within them, under a pyramidal hierarchy of governance reaching up to the emperor himself, similar to many other empires, states, and nations in the history of world civilization, be they monarchical, democratic, republican or communist.
    This challenged the remaining occupants of the abandoned divisions when the Roman organisation model collapsed on the demise of its Empire, hence the emergence of kings (‘king’ from Old English ‘cyning’, ‘cynig'; ‘cynn’ meaning ‘race'; Old Welsh ‘cynog’, Old Saxon ‘kuning’)[14] to superintend and govern so much of the former Roman Empire as they were able to acquire by agreement or by conquest, or as much of it as fell to them by election or by inheritance, on behalf of God, under the pyramidal organisational umbrella of the Roman Catholic Church headed by the Pope.
    Some believe there is evidence that these kings may have claimed, or have been attributed to be, direct descendents of the Son of God from his visit to earth in human form at the time of the Roman Empire in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa (see The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail), hence the ‘royal blood line’ which Henry VIII claimed to have, by direct lineage via the claim of his father, Henry VII, the first of the Tudor dynasty, to be descended from Rhodri Mawr, the first king of Wales, via Hywel Dda;[13] which he regarded as giving him divine authority to set up the Church of England and confiscate all the property of the Roman Catholic Church in both England and Wales, which the Pope did not prevent, even by force, which suggests that he thought too. So, even in late Medieval times, regal minds were still centred on the emergence of kings on and after the demise of the Roman Empire to govern the territories they acquired and what were those kings’ claims to kingship.
    The dilemma that a king could not be everywhere at once on his kingdom and all the earth to superintend the ‘real estate’ interests he had a duty of God to assert and protect, was solved in England and, subsequently, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the English Channel Islands, the British colonies and the rest of the world, by the king of England chartering and commissioning civilian and military personnel, called esquires, specifically for the task, appointed under sworn oath to assert and protect the works and highways interests of the English crown on those territories, and the tradition continues to this day,under the Queen of Great Britain and its Territories, Elizabeth II of England. The etymological origins of the title Esquire[15] and its cognate Squire[16] attest to its antiquity.
    During the massive expansion of British territory into the British Empire that began in the late C16th, there had to be a consequential increase in the number of thus qualified people to assert and protect the ‘real estate’ comprising the new territory, and, because the title had no protection under common or statutory law from being used by persons who were not royally entitled to use it, people who were not awardered the title by the Crown Head of Great Britain, or authorised to award the title by the Crown of the Great Britain, assumed the title unto themselves and awarded it to others who were also not so royally entitled, even their children, including foreign nationals relative to Britain, to give them the appearance of being qualified by the British Crown. In time, even the Palace administration began addressing letters using the subnominal title or its abbreviated form regardless of whether the addressees had been so chartered and commissioned, giving the addressees that had not been so chartered and commissioned the appearance of also having been professionary qualified by the British Crown.
    Consequently, the long-standing merit of the title, of certifying that the background, physical and mental health, education, training, experience, commitment, morality and loyalty of the person entitled to use it had been examined and found suitable by the Crown to assert and protect its real estate interests at home or abroad, was undermined.
    For example, the Parish Tithe Maps and Schedules of England and Wales produced under the Tithe Commutation Act 1836 included many entries with the abbreviated postnomial title ‘Esq.’ written after the names of respective property holders, whereas the enumerators books for the 1841 population census of the United Kingdom, at about the same time as the Parish Tithe Maps and Schedules were being published, contained instructions to enumerators, including, with regard to the “Names” column, “Insert without distinction or omission, every living person who abode or slept in each house…The words “Lord”, “Lady”, “Sir”, “Rt. Hon.”, “Hon.” may be put before the names to whom they belong.” and with regard to the column headed “Profession, Trade, Employment, or Of Independent Means”, “Rank, or any such term as “Esq.” or “Gentleman” must not be entered in this column.” Effectively this meant the terms “Esquire” and “Esq.” were expressly excluded from the census.
    Nevertheless, any misuse of any title can be deemed to be supporting evidence of fraud, if the object of its being so used is proven to have been wilfully intended to deceive for the purposes of fraud. The Wikipedia article on Esquire contains references to use of that title in the United States of America by persons qualified to practice law in the United States of America, of which references 3 and 10 are of particular interest in the above regard.

  • Royal

    Thanks for posting your thesis….I didn’t read it.

  • Actually the word REALTOR is from the word REAL with the word TOR added from the latin root word of FUNDUS meaning the REALTOR pays big monthly fees whether that agent sells anything or not that month and FUNDS all the real estate bureaucrats and (Ha Ha)on-profit real estate boards, councils, associations etc.

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