The Grammarphobia Blog

Room-inations

Q: My 11-year-old son just asked me why the kitchen isn’t called a “cooking room,” since the other rooms in our house have the word “room” in them: “dining room,” “living room,” “playroom,” “bedroom,” etc. I immediately thought of you.

A: Your son is right: We incorporate “room” into most parts of our homes. In addition to the rooms you mention, here are a few more: “bathroom,” “mud room,” “laundry room,” and “guest room.” But the kitchen is the kitchen – it’s not the “cooking room.”

Why is this? Perhaps because the word “kitchen” is so old, and has been in the language longer than the other terms.

The word “kitchen,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was first recorded in the year 1000, when it was used in two separate writings (the Old English spellings used back then were cycene and kycenan).

In fact, we got the word “kitchen” at about the same time we got the word “room” (spelled rum in Old English). But the words for the separate rooms in the house came along hundreds of years later.

The word “bedroom,” for example, was first recorded in 1590, in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “Then by your side, no bedroome me deny.”

“Guest room” was first recorded, as far as we know, in 1638; “dining room” in 1601; “playroom” in 1725; “bathroom” in 1780; “living room” in 1825; “mud room” in 1950; “laundry room” in 1967.

You would think that “bathroom” would be among the oldest words (since people have always had use for such facilities!). But before the invention of modern plumbing, people who relieved themselves at home used chamber pots and washed in their bedrooms – that is, if their homes had more than one room!

While we don’t say “cooking room,” we once used a similar term, “cook room” (first recorded in 1553), but it didn’t catch on. People apparently were happy with the word “kitchen.”

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