The Origin of the Word “Sofa”

The sofa has a long rich history across Europe and the Middle EastAlright class, sit down, and straighten up.  It’s time for your first history lesson.

Today, we’re going to learn the etymology of the word “sofa.”

But first, a fun fact: the word “sofa” exists in several European languages, including English, French, Danish, Icelandic, and Norwegian.  The term is also found in an African language known as Mandinka, used in Mali, Senegal, The Gambia, Burkina Faso and more.  In Mandinka, the term “sofa” actually refers to slave soldiers used by the Mali Empire.  The English translation of the Madinka term is “father of the horse.”

The English word, however, comes from the Middle East.  “Sofa,” it is believed, originally comes from the Turkish language.  The term refers to a “raised section of floor, covered with carpets and cushions.”

But the etymology doesn’t stop there.  The Turkish term “sofa” is likely derived from the Arabic term صفة or súffa which refers to a long seat made from stone or brick, more popularly known today as a “bench.”

Experts believe that the word likely entered European usage via either the Moorish occupation of Spain or the expansive trade routes of the Ottoman Empire.

Bonus round: the term “couch” comes from the old French couche meaning bed.

Painting: “Sofa” by Alexander Onishekno.

Photo Credit: JDodge420

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