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Monday, July 14, 2008


When I was about six years old or so, my brother (2 yrs older) and I had to spend quite a bit of time at the babysitter's house when Mom was working in the summer. We may even have been a couple years older than that, for we were not forced to "take a nap" with the little kids anymore.

During nap time, our babysitter, Mrs. R., directed my brother and I into her livingroom, and further directed us to "Go sit on the davenport."

The what?

Mrs. R. had already begun to busy herself with something in the kitchen or maybe in the playroom as my brother and I stared at each other, confused. I was the shy one, but even my brother was afraid to ask the question. So we remained rooted to the spot, in the dining room, looking into the livingroom, trying to figure out what a "davenport" was.

I asked my brother in whispered terror, "What's a davenport?"

"I don't know. But go sit on it!"

I didn't move. Mrs. R. was coming back towards us and we were almost relieved, thinking maybe she'd figure out we had no idea what she was talking about and change the word. She didn't. She stared at us and with impatience said, "Well, go sit on the davenport! I'll be right in!"

We knew it was a privilege to join Mrs. R. in the forbidden territory of her livingroom, but she was a severe person and questioning her authority was not something that was done - by anyone. Even asking questions out of turn was bad form. It was far better to stand rooted to the spot than risk sitting on anything other than whatever the "davenport" was.

Mrs. R. was coming back again. In desperation my older brother said to me in a louder, more desperate whisper, "Go sit on the davenport!" Then he turned and looked expectantly towards the door, as though he had considered a typical question, one that could not get him in trouble: he was going to ask her if he could go to the bathroom. He was going to leave me alone with the davenport problem.

When she appeared, finally she was headed into the livingroom, and surprised again that we had not done what we'd been told. So she escorted us into the room and said, "I told you to go sit on the davenport! I don't understand why you wouldn't just follow a simple direction!"

And we figured out, finally, through her pointing finger, that the mysterious "davenport" was in fact the large couch against the wall, the one with the afghan draped on it. It wasn't the small couch (the love seat), or the chairs. It was the couch.

Our agony over, we were seated and although we never met another person who used the term "davenport" we were prepared for that particular survival scenario should that ever appear again. And my brother in fact, hadn't been able to get his saving question out about going to the bathroom, so in the end, I was not left alone to look stupid by myself.

So it was later that summer when on a trip to Iowa to visit relatives, we saw the sign for "Davenport". Mom couldn't figure out why we burst into laughter that lasted as long as we saw an exit sign for the city, or why we were straining our eyes (or pretending to) for couches that must be found somewhere in the city limits.....



Anonymous said...




Terry Nelson said...

This is funny. I remember a couch being called that too. It actually comes from a popular American company's name - Davenport - so all sofas were called that - by customers only. At the time 40's-60's designers would have fits if a person used any term other than sofa - Never Davenport or couch - although loveseat was a differnt category all-together. Now days couch is permissible once again with younger more hip designers, but not davenport - simply because it makes no sense.

Melody said...

Our family used to call the couch a Davenport. Except I mis-heard it as "dammenport".

Adoro te Devote said...

Carol ~ :-)

Terry ~ Designers haven't ever really changed, have they? LOL!

Melody ~ ROFL! You probably NEVER wanted to be sent THERE!

uncle jim said...

we always used the term 'davenport' - i wasn't into etymology as a young person, so i never had a question as to the word's origin. but now that you've brought it up...

the word 'couch' is just as facinating to me, but only because of a french phrase i learned in high school. it started out with, "Voulez-vous couchez..."

'couchez' is a conjugation of the verb 'coucher', which simply means 'to put to bed.'

so the word 'couch' seems to have a derivation that, in the french, makes some sense.

but 'davenport'?

gsk said...

Hmmm, growing up in Ontario, it was the "Chesterfield." I never knew why, but perhaps it was also a company name. I thought a "davenport" was a breezeway, sort of an open garage...?

Anonymous said...

My mom's parents are German - they always used the term Davenport. My father's parents are Polish and Slovakian and never used the term. It was always sofa. who knows????

John in MN said...

Growing up in the 70s in Oregon, it was a davenport. I didn't really use the term "couch" that much, but people always understood me. Or maybe they were just afraid to ask me what a davenport was. Not sure.

I loved our davenport. It had tan upholstery that had a pattern of velvitty "things" (round, nature-like swooshes) that were intermittenly dark green and dark blue. It had cylindrical pellows with matching upholdery for both ends. There is no room in history in which this piece of furnature would look right. Nevertheless, those green and blue "things" were cool in the summer. It was also the cat's favorite scratching post.

Was it a "real" davenport? I haven't a clue. But back in the day, I thought that every couch was a davenport. I think I was in highschool before I realized that it was a brand name that had gone generic (and it only hit me through that British commonwealth expression "Chesterfield"). Then, other things began to hit me, like jello, thermos, bandaids, kleenex, and just about anything made by Wammo. Life was never the same.

Laura The Crazy Mama said...

Whoa, I never knew that was a brand name until now! I heard the word from some old-schoolers in the family and my sis and I would laugh hysterically whenever we would hear it. To us, it was a couch. If someone called it a "sofa", that meant they were putting on airs or a snob trying to sound fancy.