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TWTS: Lounge on the chaise longue, unless you prefer a chaise lounge

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Confronted with a long chair on which one lounges, some American English speakers call it a "chaise longue" and some call it a "chaise lounge."

One of our listeners recently found themselves in a long chair quandary while listening to the song "Chaise Longue" by Wet Leg. In it, the British indie rock duo says "chaise longue" to rhyme with "long." However, our listener says they've always said "chaise lounge" which has decidedly fewer rhyming options, though "scrounge" comes to mind.

This pronunciation diversion isn't recent. "Chaise longue," or "long chair," is borrowed into English from French around 1800. Soon after, the alternate form "chaise longue" shows up in the language.

Notice how "longue" and "lounge" contain all the same letters? That's not an accident. In fact, it's a great example of folk etymology, in which speakers translate an unfamiliar word, in this case "longue," into one that is familiar, "lounge."

Interestingly, by the early 1800s, the word "lounge" was already being used in English to refer to a similar piece of couch-like furniture. Clearly, that only served to encourage the reinterpretation of "chaise longue" into "chaise lounge." Most reference works from that point on will say that both "chaise longue" and "chaise lounge" are standard.

Here's a tricky question: What's the plural of "chaise longue" and/or "chaise lounge"? Since "chaise" — French for "chair" — is the noun in this phrase, some would argue the plural should be "chaises longue." Others would argue that since this term is considered a compound in English, the "s" should go on the end: either "chaise longues" or "chaise lounges."

No matter how you say it, it's still just a couch, right? Or is it a sofa?

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Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of Weekend Edition at Michigan Radio. She also co-hosts Michigan Radio’s weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.