Home / AMERICAN NEWS / Why Is It Called A Building When It’s Already Built? — ‘The Why’

Why Is It Called A Building When It’s Already Built? — ‘The Why’

Welcome to the newest edition of The Why.  “Why is it called a building when it’s already built?” you ask? Again, this might seem like a one-liner but in truth this type of thing is not uncommon. In fact, it is not only fairly common in the English language but others as well.

Much to the credit of those of us who have mastered the (unfortunately) unofficial language of the USA, we are seldom if ever truly confused by the different uses of words anymore than we are by the distinct uses of “the same word.” That is due in part to the fact that the actual use of the words makes the intended form and definition obvious.

Interestingly, there are a lot of examples of words like this in Modern English. Note these examples of nouns that refer to objects that—like the word building—are not “in process” when refer to them: bedding, clothing, dwelling, gathering, roofing, saying and writing,


Why is it called a building when it’s already built?/Image:ThisTime

Before we get too far into the language lesson, however, let’s peruse posts from people on Yahoo Answers.  After all, they’re almost always interesting, mmmkay?

“JediMobius” had a philosophical response: “Architecture is an ongoing science and art, so maybe it’s called a building because it can always be improved upon and remodeled.”

“Johnny B”, a homeowner, had a realistic response: “Look around your house. Have a wall that needs painted? Maybe a few things (need to be) fixed?” It’s called a building because it is a work in progress.

“Mark” said we call it a building “because to call it a ‘whirly’ would be silly.”

“Layla” who admitted she “just wanted to contribute” responded with a barrage of questions of her own: “If oranges were blue, would they still be called oranges?” and “When you ship styrofoam, what do you pack it in?”

Now let’s consider the Old English version “byldan” and Middle English’s “bilden”. Notice these words for building don’t have the “ing” suffix or ending. Also remember that Old English had a suffix—two, in fact—to create nouns: “ung” and sometimes “ing”.

The noun form can relate to the verb form. It often refers to an object that is the end result of the action to which the verb refers. Note that Old English also employed other ways to create nouns out of verb roots. One is the suffix” (at)ion” as in decision, explanation or isolation.


Why is it called a building when it’s already built?/Image:ThisTime

In Old English, when it came to the verb form, participles ended with “ende” (which they still use in the German language). Fast-forward to Middle English where all these forms came together. Basically, the participle and noun ends became “ing”. Thus, the use of this form in phrases such as “the building of” is a later development and “building” as an object is an old form.

In this case, the “ing” suffix only has the appearance of a present participle when in truth it is merely an ending no longer popular in English once used to turn verbs into nouns. (Another example here would be cotton “wadding”.) So chalk it all up to the growth and fluidity of the English language.

Why is it called a building when it’s already built? Now you know.

You ask the questions.  We provide the answers.

American Live Wire . . . Listen and be heard.

About Will Phoenix

W. Scott Phoenix, B.A., B.S. was born in Hawaii, raised in Pennsylvania and resides in California. He has been a published writer since 1978. His work has appeared (under various names) in numerous places in print and online including Examiner.com. He is a single parent of three children and has also worked as an actor, singer and teacher. He has been employed by such publications as the Daily Collegian and the Los Angeles Times.
  • Carmen gonzales

    Very well done, Mr. Phoenix!

    • Will Phoenix

      Thanx again. (We really should stop meeting like this.) Maybe we should have drinks . . .your place or your place?

      • Carmen gonzales

        My place will be just fine!

        • Will Phoenix

          Good. I am looking forward to seeing how you redecorated the one room . . .

  • Carmen gonzales

    My place, Mr. Phoenix! The only dead language, I believe is Latin. English is constantly renewing itself.

    • Will Phoenix

      Your place it is then! English is an incredibly fun language in fact. How many ways do we have to greet someone? How many ways to we have to let them know we are leaving them? How many ways do we have to try to pick someone up? (Not that I would know anything about picking anyone up of course . . .)