Turkish delight: Origins of the sofa revealed

by MyDadBlog on April 3, 2013

in Guest Post

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There’s a line in an episode of The Simpsons where Mr Burns asks: ‘From the mightiest pharaoh to the lowliest peasant, who doesn’t enjoy a good sit?’ It’s funny because it’s true. Everyone, no matter who they are or where they come from, enjoys taking a load off now and then. Sitting literally is the great leveller.

Every civilisation had its own sitting rituals and furniture designed for a bit of sedentary action. The Aztecs might have missed out on inventing the wheel but they definitely figured out the chair. The history of sitting can interestingly be charted by looking at the various words for seats that we use today.

The word originates from the Middle English but it comes from the Old French noun couche, itself coming from the verb ‘to lie down’. A couche was originally designed as a long flat piece of furniture that one used for sitting on or lying down, equivalent to a more contemporary day bed.

The term sofa, however, has some slightly more exotic origins. It is believed to originate from the old Arabic word suffa, which was used to describe a carpet or divan. You can just imagine a Turkish living room from years gone by covered in rich silks and beautiful tapestries surrounding the soft and cushioned suffa. Sounds very comfortable and a great place to relax. If we could recreate that kind of space, even to a small degree, today with sofas in our living room or with luxurious duvets then they would be nice places to spend time.

The word settee is believed to have come from the old English word setl which described a long bench with a high back. It doesn’t sound quite as comfortable as the couche or the suffa but then we Brits are all about stiff upper lips, aren’t we?

These days, sofas, couches and settees are all very similar. There really isn’t anything to distinguish between them. The only difference is the word that we choose to give them and that really depends on which you are most comfortable with.

Still, the next time you are sitting on you couch, sofa or settee, spare a though for the Arabian princess sitting on her suffa, the old English country squire on his set or the French philosopher reclining on his couche. The sofa ties us all together with the peasants and the pharaohs.

This is a guest post provided by Sainsbury’s. Their fantastic range of household furniture covers an impressive selection of corner sofas; take a look at their collection online today.

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