Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry


It took an Irishwoman and an Australian to teach me some American earlier this week.

All my life, I thought that "roommate" mean "someone with whom one shares a room". I had a roommate at Smith. We shared a room. Some people on campus had suitemates; they shared a hallway and a door to the main hallway. Lots of other people lived in my house on campus; they were my housemates.

Yet apparently, in American, a "roommate" is someone with whom one shares a residence, whether room, suite, apartment, flat, or house. By these standards, I had 50+ "roommates" as an undergraduate. How very confusing! How on earth do Americans distinguish room-sharing, from sharing any other scale of accomodation?


( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 23rd, 2008 08:22 pm (UTC)
If the accommodation is a large shared house or dormitory, containing more than, say, half a dozen people, I'll use the word "housemate" or the circumlocution "She was in my dorm." I only refer to people as my roommates if they share a small residence with me (<6 people or so). When I shared a three-bedroom apartment with two other women (each of whom had her own bedroom), I referred to both of the women as my roommates.
Aug. 26th, 2008 03:02 am (UTC)
This is pretty much my philosophy as well. Also, "roommate" is much shorter than "apartment-mate," which just sounds awkward.
Aug. 23rd, 2008 08:27 pm (UTC)
I don't think of people in the same communal building as "rommate," but I do use "rommate" and "housemate" interchangably for people who occupy the same house or apartment...In college, I had a rommate (with whome I shared a room) and the rest of the dorm were simply "people who also lived in my dorm."

But in St. Andrews, people who lived in the same dowm were"hallmates."
Aug. 23rd, 2008 08:35 pm (UTC)
*hi from fellow St Andrean* When talking to Americans I gave up and just agreed when they referred to such folk as roommates, saved having to go into the whole dorm vs landing vs hall vs completley different country discussion...
Aug. 23rd, 2008 08:54 pm (UTC)
Yes, well, I was one of those Americans. :) I was there for a junior year abroad 1997-1998, living in Hamilton, then there for an MLitt 1999-2000 and lived in Deans Court. St Andrews is quite possibly my very favorite place in the entire world.
Aug. 23rd, 2008 09:04 pm (UTC)
Heh, was not at all criticising americans, those of you who attended the place had an advantage, I just meant that it got too confusing comparing the set up at say, U C Davis (where my best friend was JYA-ing from) with what we were used to. And I just missed you, graduated in 95, was in David Russell then Fife and Gatty. Deans Court is fab, glad you were able to come back over for further study. I love theusername btw, did you see the seals at Pittenweem? We'd go there on days out and loved the wee gray noses poking up just outside the harbour :)
Aug. 23rd, 2008 09:38 pm (UTC)
Oh, I didn't think you were being critical. Silly internet, making it difficult to get the propoer sense of comments across!

Sadly, I never got to Pittenweem save driving through a couple times. I just love the name. It was also a bit of an inside joke among some of my friends from Hamilton Hall.
Aug. 23rd, 2008 08:31 pm (UTC)
Oh, we use suitemate and housemate and (if you are me or someone else who has spent time in the UK) flatmate when it's necessary, i.e., when it is not clear from the context that room = residence. IME, unless one lives in a dorm, one hardly ever really has a roommate. Adults who rent together usually have their own rooms :-)

(Beachy U town and Grad U town were both pricey enough that sharing was very normal, even past uni and grad school -- My uncle is 63 and shared a rented house with other folks till he finally bought a place about 15 years ago -- and he still has a 'roommate' who splits the place and the cost with him.)
Aug. 23rd, 2008 08:34 pm (UTC)
fellow tenant
fellow roomer

The possibilities are endless, really ;) ... At U of Ottawa, though, nobody seemed to have roommates. It was mostly just "on my floor" or "on my hall" ;)
Aug. 23rd, 2008 09:08 pm (UTC)
huh. i always figured roommate = flatmate.
Aug. 23rd, 2008 09:16 pm (UTC)
I use both 'roommate' and 'housemate', the former to mean either one whose dorm room you share or one who lives under the same roof, the latter to mean only one who lives under the same roof but does not share your room. It would I suppose be possible to have a housemate who is also a roommate (if you lived in the same room of the house) but I've never encountered that precise situation.
Aug. 23rd, 2008 09:53 pm (UTC)
Yes, I'm afraid your foreign ladies are correct. "Roommate" can mean anyone with whom one is sharing a living situation, though on a small scale rather than a large one, so everyone in your house at Smith was a house-mate or dorm-mate; if you bought a house to share with someone else in a non-cohabitating fashion, that person would still be your roommate. In fact, I've been training myself to refer to kaisilverwolf as my new "housemate" rather than roommate, because roommate DOES sound so... college-y.
Aug. 24th, 2008 08:41 am (UTC)
they are correct to a point, I agree
As said, there is no way that the people in your dorm (but not in your room in the dorm) are your "roommates." That just breaks the term.

Roommate could work for a house situation, but not an apartment building situation that refers to someone not in your own apartment. It only goes down to the smallest divisible unit of housing, really. If you're living in a boarding house, for example (where you have a lot of shared space, but places are rented by the room), my intuition is that only someone physically sharing your room is a roommate; but on this point, other people might have other intuitions.

(Side note, in Japanese, you can refer to a whole apartment as a "room," and usually "apartment" refers to the building [type], not your individual unit.)
Aug. 23rd, 2008 10:37 pm (UTC)
How on earth do Americans distinguish room-sharing, from sharing any other scale of accomodation?

Why do they have to? It's an honest question. "Roommate" in my experience just means "non-SO person I live with" and that suits most sentences just fine. If you want to emphasize close quarters for the sake of the story, there are plenty of ways to do that.
Aug. 24th, 2008 12:02 am (UTC)
IMO, they only count as "roommates" if you have to take turns scrubbing the toilet, or some other shared-space-maintenance responsibility. If they're in the same building but you have no shared space, they're just neighbors.
Aug. 24th, 2008 12:23 am (UTC)

While at Smith, I only had one room-mate but had several dorm/house-mates.

If we'd ever actually had folks living in our house with us they'd have been room-mates or house-mates. If I was primary on a lease though, they'd have been be my boarders or sub-letters.

Edited at 2008-08-24 12:25 am (UTC)
Aug. 24th, 2008 03:34 am (UTC)
I wasn't aware the word "roommate" applied to anybody BUT someone who'd shared your room, except in the rare occasion where I've heard it applied to someone who shared the same apartment.

Really, though, most of the Americans I know will use words like "housemate". The only one I haven't heard them use is "flatmate" because of the absence of "flats" in America.
Aug. 24th, 2008 11:59 am (UTC)
(being the Englishwoman present at the discussion, but not mentioned above)

It was made clear in the discussion that it was understood as such in the UK due to popular US television that has made it over the Pond. So while it is likely to be widely known in US areas that are popular TV settings, it wasn't considered to necessarily be universal.

Certainly in the UK it's roommates only if you share a room. Flatmates for anything else.
Aug. 24th, 2008 05:42 pm (UTC)
At college I used "roommate" when talking abouut someone I shared a room with; anyone else who lived in my house (cause Smith is special and has houses instead of dorms) was someone who "lived in my house".

In Edinburgh I had "flatmates" when I lived in flats, but when I shared a house with 2 women in Virginia, I usually referred to them as "housemates". One of them shared a bathroom with me, so I might have called her a roommate from time to time.
Aug. 24th, 2008 09:43 pm (UTC)
My freshman year in college in NYC, I had one roommate and two suitemates. Sophomore year I had no roommate but 5 suitemates. Senior year I had a single and other people were people who lived in my dorm or on my *floor*, which would probably sound weird to the English, since that sounds like someone was sleeping on my room's floor! But my junior year in England I had neighbors in my hall (which, IIRC, meant the whole dorm, not just the floor). (Note, yet another topic for discussion: hall or floor?)

Then, post college (still in NYC), I shared an apartment with my sister and then, later, with my boyfriend. I only ever referred to them as my sister and boyfriend! :) But a number of my friends had roommates, who may or may not have shared the same room, but all of whom shared the same apartment.

Then, in grad school in LA, I had a roommate for the first two years. She and I had separate bedrooms in the same apartment.

Note, apropos of m31andy's comment, that both NYC and LA are places where American television is/has been made. Apparently in those two cities, at least, we call "flatmates" by the name "roommate." In NYC we don't have houses, and in LA the people I knew couldn't afford them, so no "housemates."

But I notice no one has mentioned the euphemistic use of "roommate." In some places that's what not-completely-out gay people use to refer to their cohabitating SO when speaking to the people to whom they're not out.
Aug. 24th, 2008 11:38 pm (UTC)
Hmm. I've always thought of "roommate", "flatmate" or "housemate" as referring to the space actually shared. So I've had housemates but never flatmates or (thankfully) roomate, (outside of holidays, of course...)

Apparantly, kiwis make things much simpler just by calling everyone "flatmate" (at least, according to a couple of kiwis I know in Bath.)
Aug. 26th, 2008 02:54 pm (UTC)
I've only ever used "roommate." When I was at Fordham, my roommate insisted on calling me his "flatmate," which I had never heard before, and which I thought was incredibly pretentious, because we are not British, and we shared the first floor of a house ... which is not a flat (incidentally, I had no idea that a "flat" was any different than an apartment until I was at the conference in London last July and they told me I was in "flat" #19, which was just a hallway full of dorm rooms with a locked door on one end ... but maybe that's only one use of the word "flat").

As a_d_medievalist said, there are very few situations where, as an adult, you are actually sharing a room with someone who is not your significant other (temporary situations like hotels aside). So you don't really need an extra word to differentiate between someone you share a room with and someone you share an apartment with ... if you're in college, and living in a dorm, then it's obvious that "roommate" would mean someone who lived in your room.

I'd also like to echo what tammabanana said. It's about shared responsibility. If I'm living with someone and we're splitting the rent, the chores, the utility bills, etc., then they're a roommate. If not, then they're just neighbors. I suppose I could have used "flatmate" for the people in my flat during the conference, but the only shared space we had was a kitchen, which I didn't use, and we didn't share any of the financial responsibilities, so to me they were just the people who lived in the dorm rooms next to mine (of course, I might think differently about the situation if I were there for more than a few days).
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )