Whether you’re just getting started in real estate or are an industry veteran, you should know how many feet are in a story. Continue reading to learn more now, including the history of the word story and how it applies to real estate.

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The word story has two meanings in the English language: One designates the general height of a building or structure (like a 2-story building) and the other refers to a tale for entertainment (like reading a bedtime story).

We’re focusing on stories as they relate to the general height of a building or structure in the United States. Where did this term come from? How long has it been in common usage? How many feet are in a story?

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To find why we began associating the word story with building levels, we have to start at the beginning. Here’s the accepted etymology, or origin, of the word story:

The Latin word historia (where we get “history”) led to the Anglo-Norman French word estoree, meaning building. Either historia or estoree, or both, could have led to the late Middle English word story.The use of the word in reference to general height of a building came about “perhaps originally denoting a tier of painting windows or sculptures on the front of a building (representing a historical subject)” according to the Oxford Dictionary.Some etymologists wonder if the Gaelic word staidhir (meaning flight of stairs) could be responsible for our development of the word story (“stairy”). However, this is not the generally accepted word origin.

Today, we use the word story without thinking of the fascinating background and history of the word. There is ageneral consensusthat this word started being used to refer to buildings rather than tales alone in the 1400’s.

Let’s take a step back in time to discover how the word came into this type of usage.

It’s 1422. You and most of your neighbors and townspeople are illiterate. Pictures and images do a better job of communicating than words in this time period. A religious person who lives next door to you begins painting Biblical stories and scenes on the sides and windows of their homes.

It catches on, and soon most buildings and homes in your town are adorned with paintings and “stories” on every level. It becomes so commonplace that it seeps into the language. Now, when you refer to a home down the street, you talk about the stories on it.

You might say “It’s the house with 2 stories,” (because each level gave more space to paint, or tell, a different story or scene). When you talked about the level of the building you lived in, you might say “My room is on the 3rd story.”

Because images so commonly depicted a different story on each level of a building, the word took on a new meaning.

Using Stories to Describe Buildings

The fascinating history of the word story can help us have a better understanding of why we use this word to describe different levels of a building. There are correct and incorrect ways to refer to building stories, and sometimes, we see the word used interchangeably with “floor.”

Story vs Floor

It’s common to hear someone say they live in a high-rise 30 story apartment building, but not very often do we hear someone say they live on the 10th “story.” Instead, they’ll usually say they live on the 10th floor.

Why? In general, we use stories to refer to the appearance of the level from the outside of the building. That’s probably because of the historical origins of the word referring to painted walls and windows on the outside of the building.

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Today, we use “floor” to refer to the actual level inside the building. It’s a 4 story building, but you are on the 3rd floor. Confusing, but it’s the way it is.