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Hotels - Etymology of Hotels and Motels

Updated on April 10, 2015

In the travel industry, we have a plethora of words for accommodating an overnight guest. Often we will see the terms "hotel", "motel", "lodging", "accommodation", and even "cabin".  While cabin is self explanatory in its rustic appeal, what does motel and hotel really mean?  What is the difference?  What was the original meaning of the term and how did we start using these terms?  Most importantly, how do these terms really apply today in America?

In the day and age that we live in, with all the new technology, many of the words or terms that we use are a blend of words from the past.

For instance, telethon is a combination of telephone and marathon. Smog is a combination of smoke and fog. Splatter is a blend of splash and spatter. And more recent history, "blog" is a blend of two terms - web and log.

Similar to these examples, the motel and hotel originated from a blend of two words.

Hotel Maid Holding Towels
Hotel Maid Holding Towels | Source

What is Etymology?

Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.

Etymology is sub-topic or sub-field of "linguistics", the study of language. Other sub-fields of study that fall under linguistics is the study of grammar and phonetics.

Portmanteau (pronounced Port-Man-Tow)

Portmanteau is a term that succinctly describes the creation of a word from two words.

Definition of Linguistics

Linguistics is the study of language; this field of study also encompasses many sub-categories including etymology.

Motel Hotel

Motel clip art with the sign vacancy
Motel clip art with the sign vacancy | Source

Blending of Words - Portmantaue

The blending of words, the combination of two words is called "portmanteau" pronounced port-man-tow.

Motels and hotels are a portmanteau of words.

The word "hotel" is derived from the French. Hotel is derived from the French term hôtel which is derived from the word "hôte" meaning host. In the olden days, "host" referred to a French version of a building seeing frequent visitors, rather than a place offering accommodation. In contemporary French usage, hôtel now has the same meaning as the English term.

Motel is a blend of motorist's hotel. Motels were created when the motor car became popular. The motel was a fast food of the hotel industry, designed specifically for a quick in and out with the doors of the motel opening directly to the owner's motor car. Motels were designed simply as a quick stopover. Hotels, on the other hand, are often a destination in themselves offering food and many times entertainment too.

Motel and Hotel Differences in the United States

While once distinctly different, these two terms "motel" and "hotel" have now blurred the lines of delineation. While the motels today do not and probably never will offer restaurants and room service on site nor any high end luxury finishes such marble flooring in the bathroom, the American motels today do offer many great amenities such as Internet and whirlpools.

In essence, we could draw a direct parallel of motels and hotels to the restaurant industry, the "motels" being the economical fast food establishments - providing fast, convenient service for an reasonable price tag. And the hotels being the fine dining, offering more opportunities for food and entertainment under their roof and often accompanied by high end finishes.

Both fine dining and hotels pride themselves on service.

Both motels and fast food pride themselves on their prices and the ease of access via the motor coach or motor car which we now commonly refer to as the "automobile".

Times Changes - Words Change

In our ever changing world around us, our objects of desire often change, from the horse and buggy to the motor car to the automobile to simply the common term "car". Likewise, our overnight accommodations are changing. The standards of excellence are being raised and our knowledge base of what is available is changing rapidly with the Internet.

Price Competition and Price Compression

The travel industry is a true luxury industry. It is the first item we cut in our family budget, it is the first item corporate America scales back upon during difficult times. While we are rounding the bend on the economy, one of the items which I will believe will be lasting is a closer scrutiny of travel expenses. Additionally, motels have stepped up the amenities and remain very price competitive, the hotel industry will have to take note of these rapid changes. Price competitiveness for hotel rooms will continue to be high. The Internet provides a myriad of different avenues to compare prices. Further compression of the hotel price will continue and yet during high season when demand is strong, negotiation on that room rate will be continue to be completely in control of the hotel owner.

Knowledge is Power - Knowledge is Savings

All of this is good news for the savvy consumer. Learn a little bit about the industry, to best manage your time and travel. If you are able to stay during off season, if you can stay overnight during the week, you have room for negotiating that room rate. If you are traveling during high season and need a Saturday night stay, you will see many a hotel mandating a two night stay.

Become a savvy traveler, understand the industry and you can save both you and your family some hard earned dollars on your travel budget.

Hotel Reception

hotel reception with two hotel agents
hotel reception with two hotel agents | Source

Have you used the term "motel" in the last year?

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American History of Hotels

Share with us your travel tips. The best way to learn is from each other. What has worked well for you for saving on vacations and as the Europeans say "on holiday"?

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© 2010 Ken Kline


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