At home

One of my friends sent out an email this week to announce that he will be “at home” (to visitors) on Sunday afternoon, meaning that he’s putting on a party.

One definition of “at home” in my English dictionary is, “giving an informal party at one’s own home”, and “an at home” can refer to such a party. This is apparently a British usage and not a very common one.

Is this expression or something similar used in other English-speaking countries?

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This entry was posted in English, Language, Words and phrases.

11 Responses to At home

  1. sam says:

    This is an irrelevant and boring question, sorry, but do you really mean ‘this is apparently an British usage’? Surely the adjective ‘British’ means you can simply use the article ‘a’?

    English is my first language, but I’m not always 100% on it…

    Thanks

  2. Declan says:

    @sam:
    You use an before a vowel, a before a consonant. It doesn’t matter how you spell it. There “a British usage” (typo on Simon’s part I presume), but an elephant. However, a urinary tract infection compared to an underdog.

    Back on the topic, at home to me is the opposite of not at home. I would have absolutely no idea why someone would be telling me he will be at home anytime!

  3. LandTortoise says:

    I have not encountered this usage. It has overtones of dated gentility to my (class obsessed) British ear! I instincitively find it repellant.

  4. Simon says:

    The “an British” was a typo (now corrected).

  5. BenBob says:

    I have some friends that speak British English and I watch a lot of British TV shows. I have never heard “at home” to carry the meaning of an informal party or anything like that. “At home” would simply mean, to me “I am currently in my home, as opposed to not in my home”, similar to what Declan said.

  6. pennifer says:

    I have an acquaintance who has general purpose business cards with her personal contact information on it. It includes a line “At home on Thursdays between 5:30-7:30.” I have always presumed it meant that people were welcome to drop by for a social visit on those evenings. Always mean to query her about it, but constantly forget.

    I live in northern California. It’s definitely unusual to my ear, but to me it implies “accepting callers” and not so much any kind of party, even loosely organized. Even before I saw her card. :)

  7. Petréa Mitchell says:

    To this USian, “at home” simply means located in one’s domicile.

    But it reminds me of one of the more memorable phrases I’ve heard from British TV: “we’re not at home to Mr. Cockup”, meaning in that context “we’re not going to let this plan go wrong”. It was in an episode of Blackadder, but I can’t remember which one anymore.

  8. Evans Knight says:

    in older etiquette books you see the same usage in the US, as well as on calling cards send out after a wedding, i assume to imply that the newlyweds are now receiving guests at their new home together.

  9. Kevin says:

    Since American dictionaries, too, supply definitions along the lines of “an informal reception given at one’s home” for the noun phrase “an at home”, it must be assumed that the phrase has, or has had, use in this sense outside the British Isles. The phrase itself appears to date from at least 1745 (and is often spelt “an at-home” in British and Australian sources).

    I am sufficiently “sad” (in the modern sense) to be able to say that the line (quoted by Petréa, above) “We’re not at home to Mr Cock-up” was spoken by Baldrick in the episode of “Blackadder II” entitled “Head”.

    It demonstrates the usage of “not at home” as a polite way of saying “unwilling to receive a visitor”. Some further examples:

    Bertrand L Conway: “The Question Box” (New York, 1903-29)
    ———————————————————
    If an obnoxious visitor comes calling, let’s say one who repeatedly borrows money and never repays it, a man may instruct his housekeeper to
    answer the door and say to the deadbeat, “Mr. Jones is not at home.” The truth is, Mr. Jones is twenty feet away in another room. Have Jones
    and his housekeeper lied? Why no [...] in his mind Jones meant, “I am not at home to you.”

    New York Times, May 13, 1905
    ———————————————————
    “Take this card to Mrs. Vanderbilt without delay,” [said the visitor].

    “I am sorry,” said the butler, “but Mrs. Vanderbilt is not at home.”

    The visitor spoke in broken English. He seemed to grow impatient at the answer, and, raising his voice to an angry pitch, said:

    “It is a way you Americans have to deny yourselves visitors, I know. But to me Mrs. Vanderbilt is always at home. [...]”

    The butler had it conveyed to the stranger in several languages that he could not see Mrs. Vanderbilt.

    Emily Post: “Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home” (New York, 1922)
    ———————————————————
    When a servant at a door says “Not at home,” this phrase means that the lady of the house is “Not at home to visitors.” This answer neither
    signifies nor implies — nor is it intended to — that Mrs. Jones is out of the house. Some people say “Not receiving,” which means actually
    the same thing, but the “not at home” is infinitely more polite; since in the former you know she is in the house but won’t see you, whereas
    in the latter case you have the pleasant uncertainty that it is quite possible she is out.

  10. Tom says:

    To me the only meaning this carries is to confuse people about what’s going on hoping that nobody will stop by.

  11. Shirley says:

    ‘Aunt Beatrice was alone. Her brother and his wife had gone to the “at home” which Mrs.Cunningham was giving that night in honour of the Honourable John Reynolds, M.P.’ from “The Romance of Aunt Beatrice” in the book After Many Days by the Canadian author L.M. Montgomery.

    She wrote in the early 1900s and is best known for her Anne of Green Gables. The quotation marks around “at home” are the author’s.