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Why do we refer to the floors of buildings as stories? Example:

I live up on the sixth story.

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From M-W: Middle English storie, from Medieval Latin historia narrative, illustration, story of a building, from Latin, history, tale; probably from narrative friezes on the window level of medieval buildings –  nohat Sep 22 '11 at 18:26
@nohat I voted to reopen as that explanation doesn't satisfy. I've never heard of those narrative friezes before. However, I have also downvoted because the OP should really have included the basic 'research' ie. googling "story etymology" before posting. –  z7sg Ѫ Sep 22 '11 at 19:10
I just learnt BrE storey is story in AmE. –  Hugo Sep 23 '11 at 6:27

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, there has been a fair amount of debate on the exact etymology of the word storey or story. They write the following:

First in Anglo-Latin form historia; hence probably the same word as story n.1, though the development of sense is obscure.

Possibly historia as an architectural term may originally have denoted a tier of painted windows or of sculptures on the front of a building.

The current view that the word is < Old French *estoree ( < estorer to build, furnish: see store v.) is untenable on account of the Anglo-Latin form historia (from 12th cent.).

So story shares a link to historia, but even the OED is unsure how the current sense came about. Nonetheless, story has referred to a level of a building since around 1400.

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At the time when the usage came to be circa 1400 or 1500's, the general population was illiterate. Some religious began to draw biblical stories on the side of their homes. Many of them had structures with more than 2 floors, creating more than a single 'story'. When asked where they lived, they said the building with the stories. His room was on the second or third 'story'. I found that explanation easier to comprehend than the others. A picture is worth more than a thousand words, as it were.

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Where was it that you found that explanation? –  Tyler James Young Jan 5 at 2:25

I have the suspicion that German Stockwerk (storey) might have an influence. But this is only a first idea. But I would like to do some historical research about the word in Low German and Dutch. Semantically it is highly improbable that there is a connection with story and Latin historia. I suppose that the word had a special way of development with a lot of changes and finally came near "story" (for reading).

There is the German verb aufstocken, which means to build a new storey on a house. And a wordform such as *Stockerei might be related with storey. *stockerei - stogerei - sto••rei. This is only a play with letters, not the possible historical developmemt. But it shows that a relation might exist. I don't even know whether a word such as *Stockerei exists or existed somewhere. Perhaps Grimm has something.

A connection with Old French estorer (mentioned above) is possible. It belongs to the Latin word family instaurare/restaurare. Etymonline has OF estorer meaning erect, construct, build.

I can't find any older German word forms coming near *Stockerei. The idea of Stockwerk is connected with Stock (stick), forming the wooden construction as of a half-timbered house.

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