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Up in "Arms" about apartment nomenclature
January 4, 2006 9:53 PM   Subscribe

The OED and other references are failing me on this: why is the term arms used to refer to an apartment building, and what exactly does it mean in that context?
posted by stopgap to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I think coat of arms, as in family crest. Windsor Arms sounds so much higher and mightier than Gyproc Oriented Strand Board Place. It's like all those trailer parks that have delusions of Estate-dom.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:03 PM on January 4, 2006


In England pubs ('Public Houses', ie they let anyone in) were originally identified by the sign hanging outside, so you'd go for a drink at the 'Inn at the sign of the King's Head' or 'at the sign of the Windsor Arms' (in the sense described above). The pubs swiftly became known, as they still are, as 'the King's Head' or 'the Windsor Arms'.

In North America developers are keen to give English-sounding names to buildings in the hope of making them sound classier, but blissfully unaware of what the words they use actually mean, so you end up with mangled faux-anglicisms such as 'The Manses of Whimmington Chase' or other bollocks to describe bunker-style tract housing intended to be occupied by upwardly mobile first and second generation immigrants.

(I know this because I've been photographing the construction of these developments)

I imagine this is the context here... not realizing that actually they've named the place after a bar.
posted by unSane at 10:33 PM on January 4, 2006


Pretty 'armless, if you think abou'it.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:41 PM on January 4, 2006


I'm glad you asked this question. Up till now, I always thought this was a reference to a body of water. I didn't realize that it might have other meanings.
posted by acoutu at 12:11 AM on January 5, 2006


Are you sure it's arms and not alms?

An alms-house was, at least in the UK, a small dwelling built using charitable donations, for housing paupers. Different than a workhouse, in that alms-houses were intended to house only one, or very few, families at a time.

Nowadays, alms-houses make nice little cottage getaways for the second home brigade. Ironic.
posted by veedubya at 3:51 AM on January 5, 2006


I've always wondered the same thing. Here is an answer from the word detective:

It sometimes seems, especially in New York City, that nearly every older apartment building has a name, usually something far more grandiose (often involving "Hall," "Manor" or the like) than the digs themselves ever deserved. In reality, according to H.L. Mencken, in his "The American Language," only about a quarter of all New York apartment buildings existing in 1945 had such names, largely those built in the early years of the 20th century. The practice of dubbing hotels or other buildings The Whatever Arms dates back to old English inns, which were frequently named after the local Duke or Earl and often displayed the nobleman's heraldic insignia, or coat of arms, above their door. Later on, although most American cities could not boast an actual Prince or Duke in the vicinity, the tradition was imitated here by builders who felt that christening a nondescript apartment building The Canarsie Arms lent it a certain air of class.

Incidentally, although today we use "coat of arms" to mean a family insignia, the original meaning was very literal. A "coat of arms" was a linen or silk coat, worn by a knight to protect his armor from dirt and rust, and decorated with his personal or family heraldic emblem.

posted by Alison at 4:59 AM on January 5, 2006


Huh. I never have encountered an apartment building with such a reference. That said, I think the first poster is most correct. The developer simply thought it sounded "fancy."
posted by Atreides at 7:16 AM on January 5, 2006


> I always thought this was a reference to a body of water.

How so?

Anyway, give the prize to Alison for explaining the origin of the use of Arms in the names of buildings. It did mean arms as in insignia, coat of arms, and not literally someone's upper limbs, which would have made the somewhat common "Nelson Arms" or "Nelson's Arms" in Britain a tasteless joke on Nelson. (Or maybe the joke was intended...)
posted by pracowity at 7:24 AM on January 5, 2006


Doesn't this sound like a lovely place? Grandma has dementia anyway, so maybe she won't notice the horses. Many former stables have been converted for human habitation (even architecture offices, of course, of course), but I doubt that this facility has ever housed anything four-legged.
posted by namret at 8:45 AM on January 5, 2006


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