The following are definitions of the word 'estate':

estate {noun} = 1. An area or amount of land or property, in particular

= 3. {archaic or literary} A particular state, period, or condition in life

The following is its etymology given by [Etymonline]:

early 13c., "rank, standing, condition," from Anglo-French astat, Old French estat "state, position, condition, health, status, legal estate" (13c., Modern French « état »), from Latin status "state or condition, position, place; social position of the aristocracy," from PIE root *sta- "to stand" (see stet).

For the excrescent e-, see e-. Sense of "property" is late 14c., from that of "worldly prosperity;" specific application to "landed property" (usually of large extent) is first recorded in American English 1620s.
A native word for this was Middle English ethel (Old English æðel) "ancestral land or estate, patrimony." Meaning "collective assets of a dead person or debtor" is from 1830.

My question: how did definition 3 evolve into 1? Etymonline doesn't explain the bolded terms.

I read but don't quote OED; it's too terse.

Etymonline's reference to the Modern French noun « état » worsens my confusion, because (AFAIK) « état » matches only definition 3 of estate above, and has never embraced definition 1. Does this deficiency relate somehow\ to how Definition 3 jumped to Definition 1?

  • I don't understand... how do you 'heed' a 'fallacy'? That makes it sound like you are trying to commit the fallacy as much as possible. Do you mean that you are 'aware' of the fallacy and are attempting to not commit it? Anyway, many of your questions state this 'heeding' thing, but there's no need. Also, many of your questions where you state this, asking about why a word has the history of changes in meaning that it does, are just instances of semantic drift, figurative usage taking over the original literal. Are you just looking for 'missing (semantic) links'?
    – Mitch
    Jun 10, 2015 at 14:10
  • @Mitch Are you just looking for 'missing (semantic) links'? Yes; I am! Many thanks! This is exactly what I seek in my questions, but my naivety in linguistics caused me to fail to identify my problem eloquently.
    – user50720
    Jun 10, 2015 at 18:48
  • @Mitch Please feel free to edit or advise, if you can improve any of my writing. You have rescued me many times. Thank you.
    – user50720
    Jun 10, 2015 at 18:49
  • 1) Don't use 'heed' and 'fallacy', they don't fit (as explained). 2) Don't use 'recognize' and 'fallacy'; they don't fit either (is a fallacy a friend?) 3) Don't use 'aware' and 'fallacy'; they fit great but there's no need to ever state "I am not doing X". Just don't do it. (and the title shows that you're not committing the fallacy 4) Now to substance: missing links are hard to find because they depend a lot on context for which the two different meanings both fit (like a comedy of errors). OED tends to list definitions in chronoogical order so def 2 might be an intermediate meaning..
    – Mitch
    Jun 10, 2015 at 19:00
  • All words are dead metaphors. You're just trying to find what the metaphor is, right?
    – Mitch
    Jun 10, 2015 at 19:01

4 Answers 4


Well, someone with some status (def 3) frequently owned land (def 1) in times past.

I don't see the transition being that difficult.

  • 2
    The question is justfied. There is a semantic jump from the general meaning of Latin status (stand, noun) to land property with a mansion.
    – rogermue
    Jun 10, 2015 at 6:11
  • 1
    Not that much of a jump, since in history status was usually directly tied to the amount of land owned, not just the size of the bank account.
    – Oldcat
    Jun 10, 2015 at 17:19
  • That's nonsense. If it were the case, the question would be about state.
    – vectory
    Dec 14, 2019 at 0:16

I can't explain it a hundred per cent. One of the meanings of status in Latin was already wealthiness. In French the word état was used by lawyers as inventory of possessions. In American English one sense of estate became "landed property, usually of considerable size" (AHD).

So, if one wants to study the semantic change of Latin status towards landed property this needs to have a closer look at the use of the word in Latin, French and American English, and to study law language.



Definition 3, special social status/standing, was already one of the meanings in Latin. This meaning did not evolve to landed property. Landed property evolved over French état des bien (list of possessions) and got a new meaning in American law language.


Indeed, it is just some semantic shift taking place overtime. The original word is latin "aestas" or "aestatis," meaning summer. From a surface analysis, the logic has shifted in English to dwellings or up-scale living spaces the wealthy enjoy, especially during their months away from work - often times, summer months - not surprising, if you keep in mind the latin origin. The default prototype in my own mind is "a summer estate"

  • no shittin, some semantic shift it is. is the link to aestas your own finding or does your conclusion rest on a widely exceptet premises? It's not inconceivable, but seems unprecedentet to me.
    – vectory
    Dec 14, 2019 at 0:20
  • in other words: this sounds like folk-etymology. however, it's cognate with AGr aithos, which fits my presupposition to compare ethos, auto, for a sense "self", or rather "own".
    – vectory
    Dec 14, 2019 at 0:32

In the French etymology of "État" (state), there is a form "Estat": "enumerative list noting the condition of things (or people) at a given time". https://www.cnrtl.fr/etymologie/état In such lists, it is possible that a distinction had to be made between material and immaterial possessions, hence "real "estate".

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