Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Question #7

When I speak about the men who lived in the Kentucky Confederate Home and other Confederate soldiers’ homes, I’m often asked, “Why do you call them ‘inmates’?”

Today, we think of an inmate as an involuntary resident of a prison or a mental hospital, but that usage is a modern one. The original use of the word—and the way it was used through the early part of the twentieth century—was to describe a person who lives with others in a house, boarding house or apartment.

The etymology is a little foggy, but most sources describe the word as a combination of in (meaning “inside”) and mate (meaning “companion”). In 1900, “inmate” was a perfectly valid way to describe “one who lives in the same house or apartment with another, a fellow lodger.”

(For brief answers to other common questions, click the “Most-Asked Questions” button under the header of the blog.)

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