Is Your Mortgage a Death Pledge?

You didn't just sign that did you?!

Just a quick post today about the history of the word mortgage. I remember when I learned the origin of the word 'mortgage' back in real estate class in the mid '90s, and I couldn't help laughing out loud at it. Literally, the instructor told us, it was a 'death (mort) pledge (gage)'. Pay up or 'Vinny' will come and take your money or your hide!

mort·gage n.
1. A temporary, conditional pledge of property to a creditor as security for performance of an obligation or repayment of a debt.
2. A contract or deed specifying the terms of a mortgage.
3. The claim of a mortgagee upon mortgaged property.

tr.v. mort·gaged, mort·gag·ing, mort·gag·es
1. To pledge or convey (property) by means of a mortgage.
2. To make subject to a claim or risk; pledge against a doubtful outcome: mortgaged their political careers by taking an unpopular stand.

[Middle English morgage, from Old French : mort, dead (from Vulgar Latin *mortus, from Latin mortuus, past participle of mor, to die; see mer- in Indo-European roots) + gage, pledge (of Germanic origin).]

Word History: The great jurist Sir Edward Coke, who lived from 1552 to 1634, has explained why the term mortgage comes from the Old French words mort, "dead," and gage, "pledge." It seemed to him that it had to do with the doubtfulness of whether or not the mortgagor will pay the debt. If the mortgagor does not, then the land pledged to the mortgagee as security for the debt "is taken from him for ever, and so dead to him upon condition, &c. And if he doth pay the money, then the pledge is dead as to the [mortgagee]." This etymology, as understood by 17th-century attorneys, of the Old French term morgage, which we adopted, may well be correct. The term has been in English much longer than the 17th century, being first recorded in Middle English with the form morgage and the figurative sense "pledge" in a work written before 1393. Source
The modern usage of the word has become muddied, most people talk of paying off their mortgage rather than the loan secured by it, and very few people give any thought to the origin of 'mortgage'. In a time when it's become more difficult to obtain real estate loans secured by mortgages, I thought it was fitting to take a look at how easy we really have it today. It often feels like the bank owns your property, even though title is no longer held by the lender as it was in the past, but no one asks you to actually give a death pledge today...well not often ;)


andi August 15, 2009 at 11:09 PM  

Mort meaning, death?

Oh, yes, but in this case, death is just the beginning. Check this link out:

Doug Lytle August 17, 2009 at 7:35 AM  

That's just awesome andi! Perfect for a Monday morning. Thanks for posting.

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