Word Origins

The following I gleaned from At Home by Bill Bryson.

The Old English name for a slave was a thrall, which is why when we are enslaved by an emotion we are enthralled.

Around the year 1000, families in England were constantly on the move. Their furniture tended therefore to be sparse and light and easy to carry. Everything was designed to be mobile, which is why today the French and Italian words for furniture are mueble and mobile.


As they were on the move so much, they started making chests and trunks that were domed so that they would throw off rain. Digging for things at the bottom of a trunk could be time-consuming, so they started building chests that had drawers in them for easy access – hence we still call that particular bedroom furniture a chest of drawers.


The reason that we call it the ground floor is that for most of history, it was just that – a dirt floor. When possible, people would cover the dirt floor with straw. Those who could afford it would have quite a bit of straw on the ground, which became in essence a huge nest and became a breeding ground for rats, mice, insects and other critters that would often bring the plague with them. That reminds me of how at one time thresh was a word used for straw. We still use it today in the form of threshers – those machines that separate grain in the field and of course, we carry our brides across the threshold, basically at one time a heavy beam put down to keep the hold the thresh in the house so that the wind wouldn’t whip it outside.


Dining tables were simply boards laid across trestles and cupboards were just plain boards on which cups were placed. Eventually the word board came to mean the meal as well, which led to the term room and board and why lodgers are also called boarders. It was expected that you would keep your hands visible while eating, which is why an honest person is said to be aboveboard.  Most people ate on benches, bancs in French, which led to the term banquet. Chairs were rather rare and usually only the most important people would sit in a chair during dinner. This led to people who lead meetings to be said to chair the meeting and also that the top honcho is the chairman of the board.


At one time most homes consisted of just one big room, called the hall. Nowadays halls are humble affairs but we retain the term hall to indicate important rooms such as banquest halls and the names of some buildings on university campuses and such. Hall is one of the first words to enter the English language.

The word tuffet is unknown and not seen anywhere outside the Little Miss Muffet nursery rhyme.