And, speaking of buildings,

…why is a floor called a “story”, anyway?

Well where I come from a floor is called a floor, but if you are referring to the levels of a building, then that is an interesting story.

It goes back to the time of the great libary at Alexandria. This libary had many books or stories as they liked to call them. The Alexandians, not having had Dewey to invent the Dewey decimal system, had no card catalog to be able to locate books. So they decided that each level of the library would contain a different type of book or story.

Level one might contain religious stories. Level two might contain science stories. Level three might contain math stories. And so on. This caused the patrons of the library to ask the caretakers, “Where are the War stories?” The answer might be, “On the fourth level.” Over time story began to be used in place of level, “War stories are on 4.” Then “4th story contains books about war.”

Until we arrived at modern day and apply it to all buildings even those with a single story.


At least that is the way I heard it.

Who laid that load of crap on you, Jeffery?

Story comes from the latin, historia, meaning a decoration. A story was traditionally each individually decorated section of a building. Section translated to tier and tier to floor.

Papabear writes:

I was bored and feeling a little mischievous and made it up.

I guess from an accuracy stand point your answer is better, but from a style point of view mine is.


Jeffery, this is the Straight Dope, not the Made-up-cause-I-couldn’t-be-bothered-to-look-in-a-dictionary Dope.

I just looked in a dictionary, and discovered to my horror that in the US, “storey” and “story” are spelled the same. This would explain part of your confusion.

“Storey” and “story” have the same root (the latin “historia” but the words evolved along different paths. “Storey” came from the pretty-pictures-telling-a-story-alongside-windows usage of the latin word, and “story” came from the original “historia” meaning the actual story itself. (Circular definition, sorry about that.) “Story” went through a phase as the Middle French “estoire” but “storey” didn’t.

I’ll take this opportunity to point out that the American fetish for dropping letters from words or homogenizing the language as much as possible no doubt contributes to linguistic confusions of this sort fairly frequently. Do you distinguish between “stationery” and “stationary” at all?

Eris says: << Jeffery, this is the Straight Dope, not the Made-up-cause-I-couldn’t-be-bothered-to-look-in-a-dictionary Dope. >>

Well, yes, agreed. Except that an egregiously outrageous or funny response is always welcome. I have myself been known to… well… yes.

Jeffery, your story (ahem) would have been better (IMHO) if your example was the 23rd floor, something clearly ridiculous. Lord knows, too many gullible people out there as it is.

Also, Eris, English and American are two different languages. Get used to it. What English calls the 3rd storey is what American calls the 4th story. However, “stationery” is paper and “stationary” is immobile in both languages. You might consider the words “dependent” and “dependant” (adjective and noun respectively in English) which in American are only “dependent.” There are thus words in one language which look misspelt in the other.

Lighten up, Eris! I think most differences can be traced to however Samuel Johnson and Noah Webster chose to spell particular words. I’m sure Shakespere would be appalled by your spelling. Just because it’s different doesn’t make it wrong.

As to your last question: Yes, one is an adjective meaning without motion and the other is a noun meaning writing paper…I just don’t know which is which!

f u don lik mie spelng tuf noogees, lymee.

Since the point of writing is to communicate something, even if you misspell something, if the receiver understands your point, who cares.

rosekz–the medium is the message. If you misspell your note, you not only communicate your thought (the meaning of story), but you also communicate the fact that you’re illiterate, thus de-valuing the worht of your information.

CK writes:

CK as usual you are right I should have been more outlandish in my numbering of floors. I will try to do better next time.