I recently started reading a book where the otherwise fine opening scene was marred, for me, by one little detail: the narrator kept referring to the place she lived as a treehome. This irritated me for a couple of reasons. First, she lived in a village of tree houses. Everyone she knew lived in a tree house. When one option dominates the market, and may be the only option available, you don’t need to qualify it. It’s the oddballs that earn the qualifiers. It’s of interest when a friend or neighbour buys an electric car, but who talks about buying a gasoline-powered (or petrol-powered) car? Or who mentions that their new car has four wheels? You assume it has four wheels unless told otherwise.
In this case, by describing her home as a tree house from the start, the author deprives us of that little thrill of discovery that we might get from figuring out for ourselves from context that the narrator lives in a tree house. Think how much more satisfying that would be.
And there’s another thing: that word, treehome. I don’t like the term townhome either, used to describe the type of structure I call a townhouse. In both cases the writer has fallen victim to the realtors’ spin that tries to make the products they sell (land and physical buildings) more appealing by getting the customers to imagine them as homes. But as the adage goes, a house is not a home. That’s not quite true; it may be a home, but it’s not yours, not until you move in with the expectation of staying awhile.
A house is something tangible, a building that may or may not be someone’s home. A home is intangible; it’s a place where someone lives, which may or may not be a house. A dwelling is only a home in relation to one or more people—my home, your home, our neighbours’ homes—so don’t use it to describe structure, please.