I'm sitting in my kitchen, it is about 20:00 and I have just returned home after my bike ride. I have to write-up a conversation I had at the office this evening before I forget it. It was quite entertaining; it was also a real stumper. The subject (as it seems it always is) was how Americans are destroying the language. This one was precipitated when I suggested someone run downstairs to the supply closet to get a wrench so that we could do a little project around the office that we had to do.
"Closet?" was the response that came back, "Why would we keep one in there?"
I looked at the person, my face a complete picture of puzzlement. "Where would you keep the supplies that you use?"
"In the cupboard." Was the puzzled response. From the look on her face, I was certain this was soon to degrade into one of those conversations.
"You keep your supplies in the kitchen?"
"Well, we don't keep them in the loo!"
Eventually, we had the entire group in on the discussion. Apparently the only use that they have for the word "closet" over here is in the phrase "Water Closet" which is synonymous with "Toilet."
"But a cupboard is a piece of furniture with doors, nooks and shelves designed for holding dishes or other small items. It is a synonym for 'cabinet.'" I eventually said. But they continued to insist that a cupboard was any room within which something (anything) was stored.
"So what," one of my colleagues asked, showing me a headline about one of the local politicians having skeletons in his cupboard "do you keep your skeletons in?"
"The Closet." I said. "What do you call that small room off your bedroom that you hang your clothing in?" I asked.
"The wardrobe!" they responded.
We finally hit agreement when one side or the other (I cannot remember which) asked "So, when you admit to your friends of a secretive alterative lifestyle, what do you come out of?"
"The Closet!" we all agreed.
"So if you don't use the word 'cupboard' to mean a room," asked one of my colleagues "what do you call an 'airing cupboard' in The States?"
I was completely nonplussed! I had to admit ignorance of the concept. "That depends upon what an 'airing cupboard' is." I replied.
The answer was pretty cool, but I have no idea what, if anything we would call this in the states. I have never heard of a house having one. (...or needing one, for that matter.) An 'Airing Cupboard' is a room (usually the same room that contains the hot water tank) that is, designed with the purpose of hanging clothing that is wet; clothing that cannot be hung outside to dry. It is also used to air-out bedding before use.
I suppose the reason I have never heard of one is that there would be no reason to have one in Florida. Except in the worst bit of the rainy season, when the only way to get clothing dry would be by means of a gas or electric dryer, you can usually depend on enough sunshine on practically any day to be able to hang-out your laundry long enough for it to air dry. I figured that perhaps, in Minnesota, where the weather was less predictable and often it was just too cold to hang things outside they might need 'airing cupboards.' Earlier this evening, I called my dad to see if he had ever heard of such a thing. He hasn't.
I can tell you that I like the idea. I may have to have one built into my next home! It just goes to show, you learn something new every day!
Well, that pretty much killed the conversation because we quit having opposite sides to discuss things from. One of my colleagues, however, later presented me with the perfect opportunity to use a line I have wanted to use since I first heard it. (Yes, Dad! I used it without attribution... I now correct that error. I used a quote that my father once used as a retort to a lawyer in a deposition.)
My colleague said that I seemed to have some pretty firm notions of what words meant and how English worked. I smiled and responded "Well, hell! I've been speaking it since I was a kid!"
I hope wherever you are today, you learn something new!
Don Bergquist - 11 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK