The Etymology of Rooms

I had an odd idea this morning for the origin of the word “room”. According to an etymological dictionary:

room (n.)

Old English rum “space” (extent or time); “scope, opportunity,” from Proto-Germanic *ruman (source also of Old Norse, Old Saxon, Old High German, Gothic rum, German Raum “space,” Dutch ruim “hold of a ship, nave”), nouns formed from Germanic adjective *ruma- “roomy, spacious,” from PIE root *reue- (1) “to open; space” (source also of Avestan ravah- “space,” Latin rus “open country,” Old Irish roi, roe “plain field,” Old Church Slavonic ravinu “level,” Russian ravnina “a plain”). Old English also had a frequent adjective rum “roomy, wide, long, spacious.”

But the explanation that occurred to me was that it was derived from various Latin words for different rooms.

In a Roman bath house there was a calidarium, a tepidarium, and a frigidarium. And a Roman house would contain an atrium and a sessorium and a balnearium. They were, in short, full of -riums of one kind or other. And that’s my idea for the origin of the word -room, as in bathroom, bedroom, sitting-room, living-room, dining-room: a room was originally a rium.

And it was in Roman villas that all these riums were first found. Britons lived in roundhouses with conical thatched roofs. These were one-room dwellings. The Romans brought bricks and tiles and villas full of all sorts of different riums.

But there are other rooms which must have had different origins. e.g. kitchen, larder, parlour, cellar, loft, hall, porch.

Cellar is a Latin word. It comes from the Latin cella – cell. Loft sounds like it’s a German word: luft. And Parlour is clearly a French word: your parlour was somewhere to parlay or talk with people.

But what about kitchen, larder, hall, and porch? I have no idea. But since the hall of a house is usually part of its main entrance, I wondered whether a hallway might once have been a haul-way: a passage through which to haul things.

Ceiling is a Latin word. It’s derived from Caelum: sky. And Wall probably comes from the Latin Vallum: rampart. And the word Brick is perhaps an echo of the the Latin word for brick: Fictilis. And Tile is an echo of the Latin word for tile: Tegula. And the Latin Fictiles were stuck together with Cæmento.

Perhaps the early Britons already had Floors and Roofs (Pavimentum and Tectum in Latin), but they didn’t have brick walls and ceilings and riums, so they used the Latin words for these new things.

The same happens today. If we haven’t got a word for it, we’ll use someone elses’s word for it. e.g. tsunami.



About Frank Davis

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6 Responses to The Etymology of Rooms

  1. Roobeedoo2 says:

    I have to thank you, Frank, for introducing me to the etymology online site. I visit there at least a couple of times a day :D

    They also have some interesting articles. You might like this one:

  2. Igrowmyown says:

    Sounds like a rum do to me Frank.

    • Sheesh Walt. Now I know what my problem is!

      I’m Mentally Ill!

      Fortunately I’ve got a pill I can take for that.

      It’s called a “Nestle’s Chocolate Bit”, and if I take 100 or so a day, I’ll feel just fine!

      MJM, strong believer in self-treatment…

  3. slugbop007 says:

    I followed the link from Walte on the latest human disorder, nonconformity, and found this tidbit of info several web pages later:

    What Causes Oppositional Defiant Disorder? The exact cause of ODD is not known, but it is believed that a combination of biological, genetic, and environmental factors may contribute to the condition.

    More funding urgently required.


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