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Chaise longue

Q From Tony van Heerden: My American friend insists that in American English, the recliner he has on his deck is called a chaise lounge, and that all Americans pronounce it that way. I pointed out to him that all Americans are pronouncing it incorrectly, but he is unconvinced. Would you care to comment?

A Many visitors to the US are surprised to find that the name for the article of furniture is not only still known (in Britain, for example, it is now virtually obsolete outside historical contexts), but is indeed often called a chaise lounge (though by no means all Americans describe it thus). This spelling and pronunciation appears in dictionaries of American English and is now so established that no amount of remonstration, condemnation or ridicule will affect its status one jot.

The original form, chaise longue, is French, meaning “long chair”. Though the chaise lounge form is a classic example of folk etymology’s changing an odd foreign word into something more meaningful, in one way it’s hard to criticise — it is, after all, a seat that one lounges on.

And it’s an old error — I’ve found examples in American literature back into the 1850s. In the issue of Scribners Monthly for April 1876 appears this sentence, which suggests the confusion had even by then become common enough to need noting: “This particular ‘chaise longue’, or lounge, is said to be the one on which George Fox slept”.

Page created 10 May 2003

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Last modified: 10 May 2003.