Thursday, April 18, 2013

Carpets & Rugs

Carpets & Rugs

We walk on them all the time, but do we ever take the time to think of their etymologies?

The word carpet made its way into English in the 1200s, meaning coarse cloth, tablecloth or bedspread. It entered English from the Old French word carpite, which referred to heavy, decorated cloth. This came from the Medieval Latin word carpite, which began with the word carpere, to card or to pluck. This most likely had to do with the fact that wool, cotton, and other weaving materials required some sort of plucking before they could be wrassled into threads or yarn, and then woven into cloth.

It wasn’t until the 1400s that carpets clearly belonged on floors.

Oddly, rugs didn’t start on the floor either. The word rug entered English in the 1550s, from Norwegian rugga, meaning coarse fabric or coverlet. It took until the 1800s for rugs to land soundly on the floor.

Some rug & carpet tidbits:

Though nobody’s sure when the term roll out the red carpet became popular, the custom of rolling out a red carpet to celebrate royalty or popularity appears to have begun in ancient Greek myth when Clytaemnestra rolled one out for Agamemnon.

1769 to be snug as a bug in a rug
1823 to be called on the carpet
1940 theatre slang labeled a toupee a rug
1942 to cut a rug
1953 to sweep something under the carpet
1968 the word rugrat was born

So, good followers, what rug- or carpet-related thoughts do you have?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources the OED, Wordnik & Etymonline,


  1. Thanks much for the enlightenment, as usual. I've always wondered about "snug as a bug in a rug." I've thought: How snug is that? They might get stepped on. But now I see how old the expression is--and how a rug could be any kind of cloth--I'll bet it was more like "snug as a louse in your bedding."

    I'm surprised sweeping things under the carpet is so recent. It's such a handy expression for what people have done for centuries.

    1. Hi Anne,
      I'm with you on both counts. I would've imagined sweeping under the carpet would've predated bug in a rug.
      Thanks for dropping by, & may you find no lice in your bedding!

  2. I wonder what in 1968 precipitated rugrat? I'm guessing something TV or movie related. I would have also thought "sweep it under the rug" to be a much older term. How about "carpet bomb"? WWII?

  3. Charlie, interesting origins of the words. Great fun reading about it all. Here's my "rug" story:

    Years ago when I was shopping for new carpeting for my living room, I was informed by the salesman in rather stilted terms (I enjoyed both the information and his affectations) that, though we use the terms rug and carpet interchangeably, they are not. A carpet is bound on all four sides and can cover only part of a floor, whereas a rug is not bound and stretches from wall to wall, the raw edges caught by the molding.

    Therefore, we do not have wall to wall carpeting in our homes, but wall to wall rugs. And our area rugs should be called area carpets. Makes sense to me - after all, it's not a flying rug, is it?

  4. Hi Christine & Susan,
    Thanks for coming by. Susan, I met a plumber once who - in similar disdain - explained that the toilets in our house were not worthy of being called toilets. "What you have here," he said, "are urinals."
    And maybe we should coin a new word to cover all rug & carpet - maybe rugpet?

  5. Love the idea of a "rugpet." Then, I suppose, a vacuum could conceiveably be considered a "rugpetter"?

    Or perhaps "carg" would be handier, given our penchant for one-syllable terms. Then one could be laying carging, carging with the vacuum... Not to be confused with cargetting, which is getting a new car, unless, of course, the showroom floor is covered with carging...

    Good thing English isn't a convuluted language!