Where Did the Word “Mortgage” Come From?

February 26, 2023


Ever wonder why a home loan is called a mortgage? The roots of the word are actually very old.

The word “mortgage” comes from the Old French term of “mort gage,” which meant “dead pledge.” A mortgage is, of course, a legal agreement where a person borrows money to purchase a property and then pays it back over a set period of years.

The term has been around a long time, going back to 1189 and the Tractatus of Glanvil, the earliest treatise on English law. But it didn’t have the same meaning as it does today. The creditor held the property, and the benefits from the property were taken without the debt being reduced.

There was also another, more favorable agreement, called the “vif gage” or “living pledge.” This allowed the profit from the property to be used to pay off the debt. This agreement was a much better situation for the one who had borrowed the money.

In the 15th century, the modern form of the mortgage came into use. Here the mortgage became a pledge and legal agreement where the property, and the benefits from the property, remained in the hands of the borrower or debtor.

The “dead pledge” didn’t have to do with the debtor having the debt until death, however. Instead, if the loan wasn’t repaid, the borrower would lose the property, and the debt would become dead, or voided. The borrower would be able to keep whatever profits they made from the property during the life of the loan, but the property used as security against the loan would return to the creditor to fulfill the initial agreement or pledge. If it wasn’t repaid, or paid in full, it became “dead.” That form of legal agreement is still in use today.

Sources: Ahdictionary, Grammarphobia

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Daniel Ganninger - The writer, editor, and chief lackey of Knowledge Stew, the author of the Knowledge Stew line of trivia books, and editor of Fact World and the Knowledge Stew sister site on Medium, our ad-free subscription sites (you can find out how to join below). I hope you find things here to annoy those around you with your new found knowledge.

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