New Internationalist

Carpet/Rug

April 2004

The earliest English carpet was a tablecloth or bedspread. The word’s use for a floor covering dates from around the 1400s. Carpetis from the Latin carpere (to pluck or pull to pieces) – early carpets, especially in poor households, would have been made from old clothes. Harvest (the plucking of crops) is from the same root, as is the German Herbst (autumn).

Rug was first used in the modern sense of floor covering in the early 1800s. Earlier rugs were pieces of coarse woollen cloth and travel rugs were a necessity when travelling in winter in an unheated stagecoach. Rug is probably related to the Swedish rugg (ruffled hair) and Old Norse rogg (tuft). Rugged (originally meaning hairy, shaggy or coarsely woven) is a related word. The pile of a carpet is from the Latin pilus (hair): the earliest floor coverings were probably animal skins.

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 366 This column was published in the April 2004 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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