Sit on it — couch, davenport, divan, etc.

couch  Flickr mbaybor

Flickr mbaylor

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.”


7 responses to “Sit on it — couch, davenport, divan, etc.

  1. Woody Woodward

    Davenport! That sounded so funny, being from Oklahoma, they were just sofas or couches. But when I met your cousin Cheri, from IOWA, and I heard the term “davenport” that seemed very strange to name a sofa after a town or a city next to a sea port?

  2. See Woody. That makes my point. Since Cheri and I grew up together, we hear the same thing. What seaport–the Mississippi River?

  3. Woody Woodward

    Dear “Wodsbybob” readers,
    Please keep the old wordsmith in your prayers. His ticker is giving him some fits and that means no more BBQ spare ribs for Bob!
    We love you bro! Get to ticking better!

  4. wordsbybob

    Thanks No ribs for a while. Not even your KC style there.

  5. I was just thinking about this & googled “sit on the davenport.” I landed right here! My grandmother, who grew up in “the region” of NW Indiana (Gary, East Chicago, Hammond, etc.) has always said “davenport.” I also thought it had something to do with the Quad Cities. I remember when I’d misbehave, she’d send me “out to set on the davenport.” (Yes, “set.”) It was her 1970s version of a time-out.
    Another type of seating that bears mentioning is “banquette.” When I moved to Rhode Island, from Midwestern Indiana, I first heard that term in a restaurant: “Go have a seat on the banquette and we’ll let you know when your table is ready.” (The what?)
    I love the study of words and am glad I’ve stumbled on this site. Thanks.

  6. I always referred to a davenport as a small wooden writing desk. It’s an old word but I was unfamiliar with this alternative.

  7. Kyle I have never heard small desk called a davenport. Interesting. Is it maybe a regional thing where you live? Thanks for reading and commenting.