"I am shopping for a sofa," a hypothetical elegant lady in a Sunday hat once told her friends over tea.
"Go grab Max, he's on the couch," hypothetical parents once told their son at dinnertime.
While many of us have a subconscious generalization that "couch" is more casual than "sofa," few people — even designers — truly know the difference. Is a couch actually more laid-back than a sofa? Does it look different? Does it feel different?
And, if you go to a showroom requesting a couch, will you get sneered at for not using the term "sofa"? Possibly, but those people are rude, say our expert sources.
That's because there's very little difference between the two — but the differences that do exist are worth noting, if not for actual use, then at least for having one more fun fact in your party conversation arsenal.
Read on for the subtle differences.
Language 101: The term "couch" comes from the French word "coucher," which means "to lie down."
This definition does coincide with the way the term is usually used, which is a tad more casual than "sofa."
"They're readily interchangeable, but I call everything a sofa because I've been in the industry for so long," says Skip Rumley, the vice president of design and creative direction at . "But if I saw a big, fluffy, overstuffed piece of furniture that could recline and was in, say, a man cave, that's a couch."
According to an that helps sellers differentiate between couches and sofas, the term "couch" may also come from the French word "couche," which is used to describe "a piece of furniture with no arms used for lying." (Though it's rare to find couches without arms today.)
"A couch is something lay on, curl up on, and let a dog sit on," says Rumley. "A couch is where someone crashes when they stay over. Your kids are allowed on it, and you can have chips on a couch."
Basically, your pets and kids like couches a lot better than sofas.
According to the eBay selling guide, "sofa" comes from the Arabic word "suffah," which describes a wooden bench that's covered in cushions and blankets. Read: Not so great for curling up on and sleeping.
Still, sofa tends to be the industry standard.
"I rarely hear people using couch in this industry," says Dolley Levan Frearson, owner and sofa expert at . "If I do, it's usually from people who aren't familiar with home décor. But I didn't know there was actually a difference — I always just thought couch was a casual term for a sofa."
Sofas are typically associated with hosting and formal occasions, according to eBay. They may seat four or more people, compared to a couch, which often seats two to three people — making sofas better for homeowners who welcome plenty of company.
But at the end of the day, it's not a difference worth stressing about.
"There's an ounce of pretense when people correct you and say, it's not a couch, it's a sofa," says Rumley. "I think that's silly. Call it what you want, but at the end of the day, a sofa may just be a more formal idea of a couch."