Nobody likes a mortgage. Not the person who recommended this word, not most sane citizens. But back in the late fourteenth century, nobles adored it. The word and technique all started when the French took the Latin word mort-, meaning "death" and their own word gage (this is theorized to derive the Germanic word wadjo, which also gave us wed, a similarly serious pledge), with the definition "pledge". Therefore a mortgage was in fact a "death pledge," or a loan taken out on a peasant's property which could theoretically be paid off, but like in sharecropping instances, was never paid until death. This was used as a system for landowners to make money off of serfs until somewhere in the sixteen hundreds, when it came to be understood as any situation where a person deposited money to pay something off, a reasonable transition. Later on still, as big banks and financial corporations were looking for more ways to extract capital from unsuspecting citizens, they brought back the system of the mortgage. Some of them still aren't paid until a person's death, which makes the word oddly appropriate. Just make sure that next time bankers ask you for a mortgage, they aren't speaking medieval French.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.