Imagine a lazy Sunday evening in your household. After a full week of work, you decide it’s time to get some well-deserved rest. You make yourself a cup of steamy tea (or, perhaps, a glass of wine – we don’t judge), turn on your favorite TV show, and wrap yourself in a blanket, with a plan to spend the rest of the night comfortably lying down on the…
Stop right here. The question is: will you lay down on a sofa or rather on a couch? Interestingly, the word used to describe the piece of furniture standing in the living room might differ from person to person.
Even more interestingly, you might be using one term over the other, not knowing the difference between the two and the possible implications of your choice.
To find the difference between a sofa and a couch, discover the connection of your living room and Arabia, and solve a burning mystery of what is a chesterfield, follow our short guide to the world of furniture and its origin.
To understand the intended meaning of the word sofa, first, let’s look into its origin. In fact, “sofa” comes from the Arabic word “suffah,” meaning “a part of the floor raised a foot or two, covered with rich carpets and cushions, and used for sitting upon.”
The first time this word was used was in 1625, by an English cleric Samuel Purchas, who described seeing this item of furniture while in Arabia.
Generally speaking, “sofa” originated as a piece of furniture meant to be elegant, classy, and provide decorative features to the room.
Although these days the word “sofa” extended its meaning and now is used not only for elegant options, when you look for sofas on the Internet you are still much more prone to find decorative options with class.
For instance, if you browse U-shaped sofas, you might encounter an elegant, free-standing piece of furniture, perfect for a guest room or a not-so-casual meeting over a cup of tea.
Moreover, the word “sofa” is still more commonly used in the furniture and decor industry by interior designers and professionalists in this field.
However, as previously mentioned, the difference is slight. In the everyday context, the word “sofa” is used interchangeably with “couch,” typically with the same meaning.
The term “couch” originates from the French word “coucher,” meaning “to sleep.” Consequently, the original couch was to serve people as an item for sleeping or laying down, rather than sitting down.
Thus, the traditional couch was closer to the daybed or a chaise lounge used for therapy than to the actual sofa.
The feature highlighting the comfort of laying down had persevered over time, with “couch” having a slightly different connotation, pointing to this piece of furniture’s comfort and convenience.
In fact, over the years, the word “couch” extended its meaning, and these days it’s even more popular and commonly used than “sofa,” possibly since it’s more casual and has a less pretentious sound to it.
Over time, both of these words developed multiple variations and modifications with completely new meanings.
For instance, an old type of sofa was a settee, a long wooden bench with a high back, typically seen in old churches.
Notably, especially for lovers, there was invented the love seat: an S-shaped, two-seater sofa, enabling two people to sit in close proximity to each other.
Another old type of sofa, which you might have seen in front of your very eyes in any of the luxurious offices, is a chesterfield: an overstuffed, leather sofa with roll-over arms. In fact, the list of sitting variations could go on and on, and the sofa experts know all about it.
It’s true that traditionally, both sofa and couch had different meanings. The word sofa was intended for a piece of furniture meant for sitting down, while couch for laying and resting.
However, in modern English and in everyday speech, the meaning is typically the same, and the words are used interchangeably.
The word couch may be more often used for a comfortable piece, where you can casually lay down and sleep, whereas a sofa might – but doesn’t have to – mean also an elegant decoration with ornaments.
To find exactly what you look for, be cautious which term you’re using while browsing the web.
Whichever term you decide to follow in your everyday speech, don’t forget to include the knowledge regarding the origin of both of them in your collection of fun facts, to surprise your friends at a party, or impress your newly hired interior designer.