Laura Moyer is a compulsive copy editor who reads the AP Stylebook for fun.
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It’s not just Presbyterian

Definitely a mansion. But a "manse"?

The problem with being a know-it-all is that sometimes what you think you know, you don’t.

I was gearing up for a nice smackdown of the misuse of the word “manse.”

A manse, I remembered, is the home where a minister—especially a Presbyterian minister—lives.

But I’ve seen it used as a short, breezy synonym for “mansion.” That, I was going to say, is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Guess what.

While my Webster’s New World Third College Edition does give the Presbyterian minister’s dwelling definition first, it says the word has an “archaic” meaning as any large or grand home.

I would not have been surprised if Webster’s had allowed “manse” for a mansion based on modern misuse. But I was surprised that it is “archaic,” implying that the broader definition came first.

Sure enough, the New Oxford American Dictionary that came with my computer says the use of “manse” to mean the principal house of an estate—with no religious connotation—dates to the late 15th century. It says the word comes to English from medieval Latin “mansus,” a house or dwelling.

Once again I find that I am merely a know-it-some.