So, there we were last weekend slogging through furniture stores. As my mind glazed over, I thought about the different words for seating. (I also was watching for lions, tigers, monkeys, etc. at that one furniture store. None spotted, not even a leopard.)
A couch is armless like the “fainting couches” used in Victorian times and by some of us when we look at our investment statement these days. Those who know French say it comes from a word derivation that means to lie down.
Over time, arms have been added, and in some cases, the legs removed to evolve into what we now call a sofa. The term sofa seems to come from an Arabic word that means a bench or something else to sit or recline on but not for laying. Typically, they have a back too, the furniture not the Arabs.
Growing up in Iowa, I heard the term davenport applied the furniture in the living room for seating. I guess I thought it was from Davenport, Iowa. I always was logical.
Actually, a group of sofas made by the A.H. Davenport Company (now defunct) created this label. The company was Boston-based, nowhere near Iowa. The furniture style was so popular, the name davenport became a generic term like Kleenex, jello and Xerox. To confuse the issue, in some areas, the davenport was a futon-type sofa.
If you are still with me, let’s try another. The divan is a couch-like piece of furniture used for sitting. In Asia, a divan was a long seat formed of a mattress. It was on the floor against the wall. The divan was on a raised structure or frame, with cushions to lean against.
To really mix things up, DaVan (d’van) was common slang for Davenport amongst the “blue collar” families of the 1950s/60s in some areas of the U.S.
Similarly, daveno also refers to a sofa or couch. This terminology was more widely used in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly in the Pacific Northwest
Last, but not least is the settee. It is typically a long bench (usually has arms too) with a back and upholstery. It would usually seat two people, like a love seat.
In the words of the great Arthur Herbert “Fonzi” Fonzerelli, “Just sit on it.”