Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Mortgagee, mortgagor

Ogedi Ogu, a lawyer, is suing Oxford University Press over Oxford definitions of mortgagee and mortgagor. Mr. Ogu says that he suffered embarrassment and loss of reputation when he relied on definitions in the Oxford English Mini Dictionary and the Oxford Mini Reference Dictionary. He says that these dictionaries define mortgagee as a borrower and mortgagor as a lender.

I think he may have things backwards. The Oxford Dictionaries website gives this definition for mortgagee: “the lender in a mortgage, typically a bank, building society, or savings and loan association.” And for mortgagor: “The borrower in a mortgage, typically a homeowner.” The Oxford English Mini Dictionary gives these shorter definitions for mortgagee and mortgagor: “the lender in a mortgage,” “the borrower in a mortgage.” I cannot find a dictionary with the title Oxford Mini Reference Dictionary.

The Oxford English Dictionary too defines mortgagee as “a mortgage lender” but adds a second definition: “in popular usage: mortgagor.” And the OED defines mortgagor as “the borrower in a mortgage.” Uh oh. I am reminded of what happens when someone uses the word nonplussed to mean its opposite. I look forward to further news of this case.

Mortgagee and mortgagor seem to me vexed terms, and writing this post about them has made my head spin, more than once, though I was never left nonplussed. Consider these Merriam-Webster definitions: “a person to whom property is mortgaged,” “a person who mortgages property.” Can you tell which definition goes with which word? Garner’s Modern English Usage glosses a similarly confusing pair, lessor and lessee, and suggests a change: “landlord and tenant are simpler equivalents that are more comprehensible to most people.” I would like simple, clear alternatives to mortgagee and mortgagor: lender and borrower or lending institution and borrowing homeowner would work well.

This post is for my friend Norman, who knows the difference between lessee and lessor and wishes that everyone else did.

[Mr. Ogu says that he has a letter from Oxford University Press and the University of Oxford acknowledging the mistaken definitions. The OEMD that I looked up (in Google Books) dates from 2013. Mr. Ogu says that he bought his dictionaries in 2005 and 2006, so it’s possible that in an earlier edition the definitions were switched. But I’m puzzled that no article about this case has a photo of the relevant dictionary page.]

comments: 6

Elaine Fine said...

“. . . and to thine own self be true.”

Michael Leddy said...

Nice one!

Pete said...

The confusion over mortgagor/mortgagee is probably due to the common (and incorrect) usage of "mortgage" as a synonym for a loan secured by real estate, as in, "I paid the mortgage early this month." Actually, a mortgage and loan aren't the same thing. The loan is the money being lent from lender to borrower, but the mortgage is the legal lien on the real estate that the borrower grants to the lender, which gives the lender the right to take over the property if the loan isn't repaid. So the mortgagor is the party (borrower) that grants the mortgage lien, while the mortgagee is the party (lender) that receives the lien, following the standard -or and -ee usage. (Forgive the long discourse. I'm a banker, and it's not often that I have the chance to comment from reliable knowledge instead of off-the-cuff opinion.)

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for the long comment, which helps explain what’s involved. I have to admit, even after paying off a mortgage, that it didn’t occur to me that loan and mortgage are not synonymous.

normann said...

Where I work, Norges Bank, the central bank of Norway, we often, for the sake of precision, translate the Norwegian word utlån med pant i bolig as "residential mortgage loan(s)", and not just "residential mortgage(s)", because, as Pete notes, a mortgage is the lender's security interest in the dwelling or other real property, not the loan itself. This term was used our translation of the consultation response by the Bank on a proposed regulation of residential mortgage loans published on the Bank's website:

In our reports, we rarely need to refer to either "mortgagors" or "mortgagees" as such, since, unlike the Fed, Norges Bank does not supervise banks.

Michael Leddy said...

Norman, thanks for adding your expertise here. I’ll add further news of this story as (or if) it appears.