The Grammarphobia Blog

In the longue run

Q: In an otherwise well-written article in the New York Times, the writer mentions “two glowing chaise lounges.” Am I being too finicky to ask that “chaise longue” be spelled correctly? Or has “chaise lounge” been OK’d by the Anything Goes Crowd?

A: The original term is, of course, “chaise longue” (the Anglicized plural is “chaise longues”), and the phrase literally means “long chair” in French.

It was first used in English, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, in 1800 in Elizabeth Hervey’s novel The Mourtray Family: “She only begged they would permit her to lie down on her chaise longue.”

Many usage guides (including the New York Times stylebook, by the way) insist that “chaise longue” is the only legitimate spelling. But people have been using the “lounge” version almost since the term entered English.

The OED has citations ranging from the early 1800s into the 21st century for “chaise lounge,” an alteration that it and other authorities chalk up to folk etymology.

Here’s the first citation, from an advertisement in the Times of London in 1807: “The drawing rooms … possess every article of use and variety … as curtains, chairs, sofas, chaise lounge, loo table.”

(Aside: Don’t be alarmed about the notion of a “loo table” in the drawing room. Loo tables were round or oval tables for playing “loo” and other card games in the 18th and 19th centuries. A loo table is mentioned in chapter 10 of Pride and Prejudice.)

But back to “chaise lounge.” Why has this spelling persisted for so long? Well, a “chaise longue” is for all practical purposes a lounge chair, and “lounge” differs from “longue” only in the order of its letters.

Is it correct, though? That depends on whom you ask.

The folks at The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) essentially say no, since AH lists only “chaise longue.”

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) has entries for both versions, though it says “chaise lounge” arose as a folk etymology. Still, it’s not labeled nonstandard, which means the lexicographers at M-W have nothing against it.

Then there’s Garner’s Modern American Usage, which calls the “lounge” variation “an embarrassing error” and “distinctly low-rent.”

My own opinion, which my husband and I share in our book Origins of the Specious, is that “chaise lounge” will become the standard English spelling in the longue run. It’s already the dominant one on Google.

Do Stewart and I use it? Not yet. To our ears, “chaise longue” sounds a bit too proper and “chaise lounge” not quite proper enough. We usually take the coward’s way out and say “lounge chair.”

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