Etymology of Mortgage

A mortgage, according to most dictionaries, is a legal agreement that states that you may borrow money from a bank so that you can purchase a house. This mortgage is paid back through monthly payments.

According to Hensleigh Wedgwood’s A Dictionary of English Etymology, Volume 2, the word mortgage can also be described as “a pledge of lands to be the property of the creditor forever if the money is not paid on a certain day”.

The etymology of the word mortgage is interesting because a lot of other languages have transitioned to variants of the Ancient Greek ὑποθήκη (hypothéke). So, for example, in Portuguese you say hipoteca, in Slovenian hypotéka, in Spanish hipoteca, in Czech hypotéka, in French hypothèque, in Turkish ipotek, etc.

A few modern languages keep some variant of mortgage, such as Irish (morgáiste) and Welsh (morgais).


The late fourteenth century word mortgage comes from the Old French mort gage.

Mort gage literally means death pledge or dead pledge.

It also has roots in the Anglo-Norman language (as morgage), as well as the Middle French mortgage.

The reason why it was called death pledge is because the deal dies when payment becomes impossible or when the debt is paid.

Another interesting and related word is mortmain (mort means dead or death; main means hand), from the Medieval Latin mortua manus.

Mortmain is an English word that means “inalienable ownership”.


Barnhart, Robert K., ed., Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, H.W. Wilson Co., 1988.

Wedgwood, Hensleigh. A Dictionary of English Etymology, Volume 2. London, 1862.