Friday, May 10, 2013

Gathering places

What do you call that room in your home where you entertain visitors and where the family gathers after dinner? If you are an American, you probably call it the living room, although in many homes it may be called the family room or the TV room. Some homes have both a family (or TV) room that gets a lot of use and a living room that is kept in pristine condition for when guests stop by.

In different places and at different times, this room has gone by a number of different names. The English had a drawing room, which was actually the withdrawing room. After dinner, men would normally light up their cigars, while the ladies would withdraw to the drawing room to visit. After they finished smoking, the men would join them.

The French called their version of the drawing room the salon, which the English turning into saloon. Today both words are familiar in the United States, although neither is associated with the home. A salon is a place where women go for beauty treatments or to have their nails done. A saloon is a gathering place for drinking and gambling, usually associated with the Old West.

Then there is the parlor, which came from the French word parler, meaning "to speak." Bill Bryson says in At Home that parlor dates back to 1225, when it was originally a place where monks would go to talk. Later it became a room in the home where people would conduct conversations. The word seems old-fashioned today when mentioned in the context of the home, but we still speak of beauty parlors, tattoo parlors and massage parlors, all places where conversation is secondary.

Other terms such as sitting room and lounge have also been used for that part of the home where people go for an enjoyable evening together.

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