The Fascinating Etymology of Furniture

Discover how furniture has evolved over time and learn about its roots in different languages. Find out where words like chair and bed come from.

The Fascinating Etymology of Furniture
The English language is known for its tendency to borrow words from other languages, making the root of a word just as important as its meaning. The word furniture comes from the French word fourniture, which means equipment. However, in most other European languages, the corresponding word (German möbel, French meuble, Spanish furniture, Italian mobile) is derived from the Latin adjective mobilis, which means mobile. Continental terms describe the intrinsic character of furniture better than the English word.

To be mobile, it must be mobile. However, since furniture presupposes a certain degree of residential permanence, it is understandable that independent types of furniture have not been developed among Melanesians or Inuit in Greenland or Mongolian nomads in Asia.

The word chair seems to have originated from the ancient Greek word kathedra, which is made up of the words kata (“down”) and hedra (“seat”). This eventually became the Latin word cathedra, meaning “seat”, and then evolved into the French chaire. The etymology of this word also gives some insight into the history of the product itself.

The root word of bed is still somewhat debated. It may have come from the Old English word bedd or the Proto-Germanic word badjan, meaning “dug sleeping place”. It could also be related to the German Bett.

During the twentieth century, however, it ceased to be used by native speakers. A single item of furniture, such as a chair or a table, is often called a piece of furniture. In many languages “piece of furniture” is one word, and often its plural form is the equivalent of the English “furniture”, for example French meuble.