Thursday, January 13, 2011

In, On, Sofa, Couch

White upholstered chair and sofa
Did you ever wonder why we sit in a chair, but on a sofa?

At least to me, it sounds a bit odd to say I sat on a chair... it only makes sense if I were perching on the arm of the chair, rather than on the seat.

Although sit in the sofa sounds even worse. As if the cushions had been cut open and you were nesting inside them.

Oh, and this reminds me: I grew up calling an upholstered, multi-seat piece of living room furniture a couch, rather than a sofa, but found out couch was hopelessly wrong when I worked for a hip furniture company. My grandmother called the same piece of furniture a davenport, which none of us ever understood.


Michael Leddy said...

I'd hazard this explanation: a chair (an armchair anyway) surrounds the person; a sofa does not.

There's also getting in the car but on the bus.

Daughter Number Three said...

Getting on the car -- never. Get in the bus, though... possible, if you were admonishing someone to hurry up and move up the stairs. But definitely not the first thing that comes to mind; it just doesn't sound as wrong as get on the car.

Michael Leddy said...

"Get in the bus, though... possible, if you were admonishing someone to hurry up and move up the stairs." Yes. I hear a teacher yelling at kids on a field trip.

Barbara said...

I can't even remember what I called the living room furniture piece growing up, ever since years ago when someone in my dorm did a survey for linguistics class and we all started talking about it. The results seemed to show that it was a regional difference (like pop, soda, and soda pop). "Davenport" is familiar from reading older novels. I tend to call it a "couch" now, and "sofa" sounds pretentious to me (sorry to my friends from other regions). On the other hand, I have never have been hip enough to work for a hip furniture company. DN3, you have one of the most interesting job histories ever!

Becky said...

I always thought that "davenport" was what Canadians called a couch. Like Barbara, I am pretty sure it's regional. We call it a couch here, unless you are being fancy. HA.
The in/on thing is interesting. I (and some of the other people from my hometown) say we are putting gas "on" the car instead of "in" the car. Makes no sense whatsoever, and no one else in Northern MN says it that I know of, but it's what I grew up saying.

Carmella said...

All I know is that MY life with be better if I was allowed up/on/in the sofa/couch/davenport!

Barbara said...

Carmella, in my house our furry child absolutely OWNS the couch/sofa/davenport. And the pillows and throws, and the coat that someone set down for a second.

Now: who stands "in" line and who stands "on" line?

Daughter Number Three said...

Barbara, I was thinking of mentioning the in line vs. on line controversy, too. I remember being shocked that anyone would say "on" line, although I got used to it quickly once I heard it frequently during college.

I often wonder how New Yorkers deal with the more recent usage of "on line," as in America On Line.