Boy, here’s a word that didn’t gee. From Michael Eby’s 2001 history of the magazine Electrical Construction and Maintenance:

The magazine was first published in November 1901 as The National Electrical Contractor, the official trade journal of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). Many of the articles in these early issues focused on activities related to the Association and on business issues related to electrical contractors.

In May 1918, the magazine changed its name to the Electrical Contractor-Dealer. […] However, the new name didn’t last long. In November 1921, the magazine changed names again to the National Electragist, and more simply to The Electragist in June 1923. The term “electragist” was adopted to replace the term “electrical contractor-dealer.” The name change coincided with the renaming of the Association to The Association of Electragists International at its annual meeting in 1922.

Thanks to the wonders of Google Books, we can read the National Electragist from the comfort of our devices; Volume 22 (1922) contains this vigorously stated passage on pp. 17-18:

The Difference Explained

Recently an electrical man was glibly talking about the electrical industry to a group of nonelectrical men — glibly because he felt sure of his ground, believing every word that escaped his lips would be taken as gospel truth by his hearers who were supposed to be unacquainted with the industry as an industry.

After expounding the position of the manufacturer, he explained the function of the central station. He interpreted nobly the work of the jobber. And finally and lastly he got down to discussing the apparently humble role of the contractor dealer — “or electragist as some prefer to call him,” to use his own words.

And right there is where he spilled the beans. A contractor-dealer cannot be called an electragist arbitrarily. Let us all remember that. As has been iterated but should be iterated and reiterated until people in the remotest parts of the world know the difference, an electragist is more than an electrical contractor — infinitely more than an electrician.

Take the case of the realtor, an electragist in the real estate field. It will be seen by the article printed on another page of this issue that the application of the words realtor and electragist is very similar in the two fields. The realtor is a professional, a technical expert. That cannot be said of a curbstoner, a basket contractor, an office in the hat electrician.

It should be said of the contractor dealer that uses only high grade and standardized materials; that does quality work in every detail of the job; that services in a dependable and trustworthy manner; that upholds and enforces the rules of the National Electrical Code; that competes fairly; that seeks to promote coöperative association work — furthermore, one who is a member of the International Association, and thus qualifies to become an electragist.

As the service rendered by a realtor is honest, intelligent and responsible, so should be characterized the service rendered by an electragist, coupled with the assurance of safety and satisfaction.

It is every electragist’s duty to tell the public in unmistakable terms the qualifications necessary before the electrical contractor-dealer may become privileged to adopt the name electragist. If that is done the time will soon come when not even a man of the industry can trick a lay audience into believing that the two terms are one and the same thing.

That’s telling ’em! And yet somehow this new and exciting term soon fell into utter oblivion (the OED knows nothing of it), in contradistinction to its pal realtor, which is still triumphantly with us. Habent sua fata verba… speaking of which, while curbstoner is still with us, “basket contractor” and “office in the hat” (a term I personally find offensive) seem to have gone the way of “electragist.” (Thanks, Trevor!)


  1. As the service rendered by a realtor is honest, intelligent and responsible, …

    Really? Is that a house-seller or a house-buyer’s assessment?

    If I were considering adopting ‘electragist’ I’d keep as far away as possible from ‘realtor’. I have a mate who (I think) fits the bill of ‘electragist’. He’s definitely not an ‘electrician’: don’t even think of asking him to wire up your sound system.

  2. For comparison, note that “REALTOR” is still claimed to be a trademarked term. The claim is indefensible on its face, but no one evidently sees fit to challenge it.

  3. “REALTOR” is still claimed to be a trademarked term

    Then are NZ Realtors Network Ltd in breach? The ‘history’ doesn’t seem to mention licensing the name.

    A linguistic oddity on that page

    … General Manager and acts as one of the single points of contact for key clients.

    Can “one of” (presumably many) be a “single point”? God is three and God is One.

  4. @Brett: “The claim is indefensible on its face, but no one evidently sees fit to challenge it.”


    Zimmerman v. National Association of Realtors

    Trademark Trial and Appeal Board Mar 31, 2004 No. 92040141 (T.T.A.B. Mar. 31, 2004)


    Accordingly, based upon all the evidence in this record, we find that the marks REALTOR and REALTORS continue to function as collective service marks and have not become generic terms.

    Decision: The petitions to cancel are denied.


    The full record of the court: https://casetext.com/admin-law/zimmerman-v-national-association-of-realtors-1

  5. So that means that in the U.S., you can call yourself a real estate agent, but not a realtor if you’re not a member of / registered with the association?

  6. PlasticPaddy says

    I would suppose it is enough that, say, the senior partner is registered and provides official signatures.

  7. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    As the service rendered by a realtor is honest, intelligent and responsible, …

    Is that meant seriously? In my experience estate agents are rated below politicians and lawyers for general honesty.

  8. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Having a single point of contact doesn’t mean that one particular person is contacted by all outsiders, it means that each outsider only contacts one person (or helpdesk email address), who does all the other contacting for them. So I suppose you have can have several if you want…

  9. @Hans. The answer to your question is yes.

    @Athel Cornish-Bowden. It’s better to have such an organization than none at all. Buyers and sellers with complaints against realtors at least have where to turn to for (possible) remediation. Complaints against real-estate agents require turning to lawyers and the courts, which would probably be expensive.


    Disclosure: I have never had any kind of relationship with any realtor.

  10. I had always heard real-ter until a radio commercial a few years ago in which it was pronounced real-torr. I joked to a realtor friend of mine about whether the people who made the commercial spoke of congressmen and sena-torrs. But he said he did hear that pronunciation pretty often. How many Hatters use a strong vowel there?

  11. J.W. Brewer says

    The google books ngram viewer shows a very rapid rise and almost equally rapid fall in usage of “electragist,” peaking in 1922 and 1923. That coincides with the period my maternal grandfather (1903-2003) was having his formal university education as an electrical engineer, receiving his bachelor’s degree in ’24 and his master’s in ’25. So now I’m curious if he would have remembered hearing “electragist” as the label for a different but worthy-in-its-own way electricity-related vocation. But it’s too late to ask.

  12. How many Hatters use a strong vowel there?

    I have always disliked the word and long ago made the decision to use only “real estate agent,” but if I did say the word I’m pretty sure I’d use the reduced vowel as less offensive/arrogant/stupid.

  13. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I didn’t know it was ‘real’ at all, and have always said it in my head as if you could have an altor and then a re-altor.

    Here you usually just talk about estate agents, and I was confused the first time I came across an ‘actual’ estate agent (someone running an estate for someone else) in a book.

  14. There are also people who pronounce realtor “reeliter.”

  15. Now that’s weird.

  16. Stu Clayton says

    How many Hatters use a strong vowel there? [real-torr]

    I would go with real-terr, as does my lawyer sister on the phone (she was talking about such just recently). But I have never had occasion to utter the word, having no truck with realtors, and would use it only under duress. What might people would think of me if I did not pronounce it as they do ?!

  17. I’ve heard ‘realator’ — comparable to nucular, I guess, although I don’t know what the overlap might be between people who say the words like that.

  18. cuchuflete says

    The initial vowel/dipthong sound in realtor should be the same as in leech. When I bought my
    current home the listing (seller’s) agent and the buyer’s agent were—as is common in small villages—one and the same. I had to sign bits of paper verifying that my self interest and theirs might not coincide. Both buyer’s and seller’s agent, yeah, him, benefitted from a higher transaction price, while the prospective buyer, me, most certainly did not. (/rant>

  19. Both buyer’s and seller’s agent, yeah, him, benefitted from a higher transaction price,

    Even in a modest-sized city, the pool of agents is small and they spend a lot more time agenting to each other than with the great unwashed. They’re not going to poop in each others’ nests.

    You’re going to sell your house sometime, presumably. The agent will want to act for you then; and you’ll want them to get you the best price. So swings and roundabouts?

  20. I’ve never heard realtor used in Australia. Here they’re always real estate agents.

  21. Good people, the Aussies.

  22. cuchuflete says

    You’re going to sell your house sometime, presumably. The agent will want to act for you then; and you’ll want them to get you the best price. So swings and roundabouts?

    When I sold my former house, neither buyer nor seller engaged an agent. Market equilibrium was achieved amicably, promptly, and without leeches. Might history repeat itself?

  23. The “realator” pronunciation is a recurring joke in the (semi-recommended) dark-humor sitcom Santa Clarita Diet.

  24. I have heard all the mentioned pronunciations of realtor, including the three-syllable version. Like languagehat, I tend to use the (older, not speciously trademarked) term real estate agent. The “real” part of “real estate” has something to do with the related term “real property.” Probably also related is the legal fiction that land is unique and a party owed land generally cannot be made whole by an equivalent cash value.

  25. J.W. Brewer says

    I don’t think the rule that any given parcel of real estate is essentially by definition unique, whereas the uniqueness/distinctiveness of personal property may in some circumstances need to be proven if you want a court order giving you the property rather than an appropriate amount of cash, has anything to do with the etymology of “real estate.” “Real” property contrasts in legal jargon with “personal” property, not unreal or less-real property. FWIW, in old-timey English law there are or were certain “incorporeal” thingies (definitely not land or structures built thereon) which are nonetheless considered real property rather than personal property. One example is advowson, viz. the hereditary right to tell the bishop which priest to appoint to a given benefice or living when it falls vacant. Advowson is one of a number of features of old-timey English law that failed to take secure root on this side of the Atlantic.

    French law calls land-and-buildings type property “immobilier.” Focusing on its lack of mobility rather than some sort of metaphorical “realness” is probably helpful in avoiding confusion.

  26. PlasticPaddy says

    Is the real in real estate not from a concept that the Norman king had the only title to non-Church lands and other title-holders were subject to ground-rent or other feudal obligations?

  27. It’s not from the “royal” word; cf. OnEtDic: “The notion behind the word is the immobility, or the fixed, permanent nature of certain kinds of property, especially landed.”

  28. David Marjanović says

    French law

    Roman/code as opposed to insular/case law. Immobilien in German (countable plural, sg. Immobilie f.).

  29. J.W. Brewer says

    @PP: well, if your land was held from the king subject to your obligation to go to war for him or whatnot but your livestock and clothing and jewelry were owned by you more absolutely, which sort of property is the realer? The “real” is via Norman French from Late Latin “realis,” an adjective formed from the noun “res,” and “res” has rather a wide range of meanings in Latin. If you start with “res” as “thing,” why the adjective as applied to property ended up with a narrower scope limited to immovable things and not applied to movable things is a bit mysterious. But words end up with larger or narrower scopes than their etymon had all the time, and it’s often not helpful to look for a rational explanation of why it happened a particular way in a particular instance.

    Here’s Blackstone’s brief intro to another significant category* of property, in an online version mis-OCR’d so the long s’s come out as f’s: “CHATTELS perfonal are, properly and ftrictly fpeaking, things moveable; which may be annexed to or attendant on the perfon of the owner, and carried about with him from one part of the world to another. Such are animals, houfehold-ftuft, money, jewels, corn, garments, and every thing elfe that can properly be put in motion, and transferred from place to place.” “Personalty” is a nice legal-jargon word parallel to “realty,” but I don’t think it’s ever found as much favor with the broader public.

    *What we now call “intangible personal property” has grown rather dramatically in economic significance since Blackstone’s day.

  30. J.W. Brewer says

    @David M.: Was “Immobilien” part of the jargon of German-speaking lawyers before circa 1800, or did it arrive with Napoleon’s troops but remain after they retreated?

  31. David Marjanović says

    Wiktionary says “borrowed in the 18th century from Medieval Latin immobilia” (neuter plural).

  32. Russian has the precisely calqued недвижимость.

  33. PlasticPaddy says

    Does “fahrende Gut”, as opposed to Immobilien, have a legal sense, or is it just archaic?

  34. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    The legal term here is (or used to be) mur- og nagel-fast inventar, as opposed to møbler. The former (doors, windows, boilers; roughly speaking, things that keep the property safe from rain/snow/frost damage) is assumed to stay with the property, the latter to follow the inhabitant. Modern household machines like fridges or stoves or washer/driers can go either way, so are listed collectively as hårde hvidevarer on a sales or rental contract.

    I don’t know if these categories have a base in law or are purely customary.

  35. J.W. Brewer says

    A boiler would be a good example of what we often call in Anglophone legal jargon a “fixture” – it starts out as movable personal property but then it gets “affixed” to the real property once installed and thus becomes part of it. (So, for example, upon affixation it becomes subject to the mortgage lender’s lien.) Things like fridges are borderline cases in U.S. law as well (they don’t get moved around much in practice but they typically aren’t actually affixed to the house with nails or the equivalent), so e.g. a contract for the sale of a house will often (this may vary by state) specify whether they stay or go.

  36. Does “fahrende Gut”, as opposed to Immobilien, have a legal sense, or is it just archaic?
    I didn’t encounter it before your question, although I had to take some introductory law courses at university for my studies of economics and occasionally had to tackle issues of civil and commercial law in my career. The impression I get from a cursory internet search is that it’s a purely historical term and not used in current law practice anymore. (And it’s fahrendes Gut 😀.)

  37. French law calls land-and-buildings type property “immobilier.”

    Hence from Porthos’s will (quote from memory): “I bequeath my immobilier (which means that it cannot move by itself, as was explained to me by my friend Aramis)…”

  38. There were enough lapses in that memory that it took me some effort to retrieve the source, but I found it.


    « Quant aux biens mobiliers, ainsi nommés, parce qu’ils ne peuvent se mouvoir, comme l’explique si bien mon savant ami l’évêque de Vannes… »

    English (a terrible public-domain translation from 1893 — apparently there is still nothing newer!):

    “As to my personal or movable property, so called because it can be moved, as is so well explained by my learned friend the bishop of Vannes – ”

  39. Ah! So it’s about mobiliers not immobiliers, but the translator missed the joke… Thanks fo finding it. I mis-remembered it in Russian.

  40. When I bought my old fixer-upper farmhouse in Maine, it contained a remarkable quantity of houfehold-ftuft left behind by the previous owners. I had to rent a dumpfter to dispose of it all.

  41. the translator missed the joke

    Yes, that was depressing.

    I mis-remembered it in Russian.

    Ah! A Russian version (no translator named):

    “Что касается движимого имущества, называемого так потому, что оно само не в состоянии двигаться, каковое разъяснение получено мною от моего ученого друга, епископа ваннского…”

  42. David Marjanović says

    IANAL, but fahrendes Gut sounds hopelessly archaic because it would, today, mean the goods are moving, not merely movable – and moving specifically on wheels or skis, by sled, by ship, to hell or up into heaven. I think bewegliche Güter exists.

    mur- og nagel-fast inventar

    Huh. Niet- und nagelfest exists farther south, but is rather colloquial, as in “they stole everything that wasn’t bolted down”. (Niete f. “rivet”. Also “blank” in a lottery, and “zero” as opposed to “hero”.)

  43. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    En nitte is a rivet as well as a lottery ticket with no payout. That must be a borrowing. Murfast is more like built-in stuff that would leave a hole in the masonry if removed, not just nailed down.

  44. David Marjanović says

    How did I not recognize Mauer.

    (I’ve never seen *mauerfest, though.)

  45. What about ?Mauerfestung? I don’t think I have ever seen it, but it seems like it could be a word.

    In English mure as a noun is obsolete. The closest cognate in everyday use is immure, which is elevated style but not obscure.

  46. David Marjanović says

    I’ve never seen it either, and it looks very improbable because Festung means “fortress”. Masonry is implied.

  47. I was mostly think by analogy to Steinfestung: basically redundant, but not problematic.

  48. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Heh, that goes to show. I’ve seen immure before, I’m pretty sure, and equated the morpheme with the Danish one without realizing that mure on its own doesn’t exist in English. I just possibly might have thought about French or Latin as a source, but probably not.

    Shakespeare has a pun on moor and mure, doesn’t he? Where the Moor is playing a wall in some charades…

  49. David Marjanović says

    Stone walls count as Mauern, too.

  50. “The Moor must go!”

  51. “The Moor must go!”

    poor uncle karl…

  52. Der Mohr hat seine Arbeit gethan, der Mohr kann gehen. (Ab.)

  53. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    But that is Schiller. And Muley Hassan (der Mohr) is not pretending to be a wall at that point. I’ve been misled by the Internet. Again!

    (Moren har gjort sin pligt—Moren kan gå is said by the Moor himself in that play, and that is undoubtedly the source of the use in Danish when commenting on the careless dismissal of some bureaucrat, though in that case put in the mouth of the employer).

    Shakespeare has

    Wall: Thus haue I Wall, my part discharged so;
    And being done, thus Wall away doth go.

    A midsummer night’s dream, 5, 1

    T Vogel-Jørgensen’s Bevingede Ord reports that Oscar Arlaud’s (translation of) Geflügelte Worte mentions that Schiller is probably riffing on that, but that no version of GW has noticed the pun between Mauer in the original German of Shakespeare and Moor in Schiller. Possibly (my comment) because some German editions seem to have Wand and not Mauer in the scene. I didn’t find any Danish versions, it could be either Væg or Mur for the Wall in Shakespeare.

    Would a German audience in 1800 have caught a reference to Shakespeare in Schiller?

  54. Would a German audience in 1800 have caught a reference to Shakespeare in Schiller?
    Very probably. A Shakespeare revival had taken place during the late 18th century, and the Schlegel / Tieck translations of Shakespeare that have the same classical status in Germany like Schiller and Goethe were finding their way on the stages at that time.
    That classic Schlegel translation has Wand, not Mauer. But it is later than Schiller’s Fiesco, so one would have to check what translation of Shakespeare’s piece could have influenced Schiller, if it did at all (I’m not convinced that the “Mohr” quote is an allusion to “Midsummer”).

  55. I’m not convinced that the “Mohr” quote is an allusion to “Midsummer”

    Me neither. It’s clever but farfetched.

  56. David Marjanović says

    Der Mohr hat seine Arbeit gethan, der Mohr kann gehen. (Ab.)

    Generally misremembered with Schuldigkeit ~ “duty” instead of Arbeit “work” – including, it seems, by the Danish translator (G Pflicht “duty”).

  57. Мавр сделал своё дело, мавр может гулять смело.

    In one translation or another applied judiciously to the people leaving an outhouse or its functional equivalents.

  58. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    I now got hold of the Danish text of the Shakespeare — my Mom tells me that the handicraft men’s play was often performed on its own in schools and girl guide troops as Pyramus og Thisbe, and the character of Wall was indeed called Mur:

    Mur: Jeg Mur har nu min gerning gjort som så,
    og da det nu er gjort, kan muren gå.

    At first she remembered it as having been from Othello (as did I), so the idea that Mur = Mor = Othello is alive in less Shakespeare-specialist circles here. But it’s the Schiller line that’s quoted, even if people think it’s from Othello. So maybe the pun’s only a piece of Danish cultural flotsam engendered by the Schiller line hooking onto something everybody in my mother’s generation had seen in school plays.

  59. From Waugh, The Loved One: “Normal disposal is by inhumement, entombment, inurnment or immurement, but many people just lately prefer insarcophagusment.”

  60. David Marjanović says

    Pyramus og Thisbe

    Oh, that. I had no idea it had anything to do with Shakespeare, even though it’s utterly unsurprising in hindsight.

  61. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    The plot is classical, and I’d be ready to believe that a gaggle of workmen in the late 16th would know it well enough to ad-lib it down the pub of a Sunday to amuse the kids. But it’s WS’ version that survives, just like his plays are the earliest surviving attestations of so many words.

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