October 4, 2010

Wordplay: Etymology of Furniture Terms

FURNITUREWith all this talk about furniture, it’s only natural to wonder where some of these terms came from. The English language is notorious for “borrowing” words from other languages, which is why the root of a word can be just as important as its actual meaning; a person fluent in French can quickly deduce the meaning of a French-rooted English word they’ve never heard before. Hence the widespread belief that multilingual individuals are more intelligent than monolingual ones.

For this post, we’re driven more by curiosity than anything else. But if you happen to learn something in the process, kudos to you!


We’ll start with the mother of all furniture terms. The word furniture actually comes from the French word fourniture, meaning “supply” or “the act of furnishing.” These days, we use furniture to refer to several pieces, but during the 19th century the plural form furnitures was commonly used. That slowly disappeared by the time the 20th century rolled around. Because we modern folk are so busy, we don’t have the time to pronounce that superfluous “s” sound. Take that, logic!

MAGI-72 Bed (9)bed 
Such a tiny word could stem from any number of languages. Indeed, many languages contain terms that could conceivably be the root word of bed, but there’s still some debate as to its exact origin. Bed most likely comes from the Old English word, bedd. It may also have roots in the Proto-Germanic word, badjan, meaning “dug sleeping place,” the German Bett, or the Latvian bedre, meaning “hole.” (Hole? Really?) Throw in some possible Latin, Dutch, and Russian root words, and you’ve got yourself quite a diverse slumber party! Whatever the case, it goes without saying that today’s beds are far more comfortable than the  “beds” – or dug sleeping places – of yore.

NOVA-85 LAMPlamp
This one is a little easier. Our everyday term for “device that generates heat, light, or other radiation” stems from the ancient Greek word lampas, meaning “torch.” This made its way into Latin (lampas) and French (lampe) and eventually to us!

1-BEST-65 Occ Chair (2) fixchair
This word seems to make its debut as the ancient Greek word kathedra, which is made up of the words kata (“down”) and hedra (“seat”). This eventually became the Latin word cathedra, meaning “seat,” and then evolved into the French chaire.

GILD-16 Sofasofa
The etymology of this word also gives some insight into the history of the product itself. The Arabic word súffa means “long seat made of stone or brick.” Sounds comfortable, doesn’t it? Though it isn’t clear how the word made its way into our modern vocabulary, it is believed the Turkish or Moorish occupation of Spain helped spread it to European languages.

kiwi-35_loungechaise lounge
We find the story behind this term particularly funny. First of all, chaise is a variant of the French word for “chair,” chaire. Lounge, however, has an unknown etymology. But that doesn’t really matter in this case because the original term for this piece of furniture is actually chaise longue, or “long chair.” The term longue was inadvertently changed to lounge by Americans when this type of furniture became popular in the U.S. The error was so pervasive, the piece eventually became known as a chaise lounge.

SUNS-72 Futonfuton
Plain and simple, this one. Futon is the Japanese word for “bedding.” Sure, it’s kind of a stretch calling a futon a bed, but it does function as a bed so… it’s not like the word is misleading anyone. Right?

1-SARU-03 Credenza (6)credenza
Credenza’s roots stem from the Latin word credere, which means “to believe.” It eventually evolved into credentia, and then the Italian credenza. The modern credenza was most likely inspired by the credence, a long table used to hold items during Catholic mass. The credenza’s first known secular use was as a sideboard for nobility where food would be placed and then taste-tested by servants for poison.

Narratives are for entertainment purposes only and frequently employ literary point of view; the narratives do not necessarily reflect the opinions of El Dorado Furniture, its officers, or employees.

Have a comment or topic suggestion for the author? Shoot him an e-mail at vcapo@eldoradofurniture.com.