What is a chesterfield?

Have a seat on the couch, and we’ll talk about a term used in Canadian English: chesterfield.

Chesterfield

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Example:

While watching a sitcom on TV, I laughed so hard, I fell off the chesterfield!

Meaning:

Chesterfield is a term that I heard frequently growing up in Canada. In Canada, a chesterfield is a couch or sofa; that is, a large, cushioned seat that can fit more than one person. Note that if the couch can seat exactly two people, that type of couch is typically referred to as a loveseat.

The term chesterfield originates in England where such seats are believed to have originally been named for a former Earl of Chesterfield, an Anglo-Saxon noble. In the United Kingdom the term chesterfield typically refers to a buttoned sofa, normally made out of leather, with arms and back of approximately the same height. In Canada, however, any type of couch or sofa can be called a chesterfield.

I used the term chesterfield daily as a child growing up in Ontario… in fact, I don’t recall using the term couch, which is the most common way to refer to such a piece of furniture in the United States, until I was attending university in South Carolina. That said, the term chesterfield is a dying term that is gradually being replaced in Canadian vocabulary by the terms couch and sofa. While you may hear the word chesterfield being used in Canada, you won’t hear it used as often as you might have during the 1990s or before.

What is a sitcom?

In the example above I used the word sitcom. In case you are unaware, sitcom is a short-form way to refer to a situational comedy. Sitcoms are half-hour comedy television shows that North American networks play, typically featuring a new episode per sitcom per week during a television season. Examples of sitcoms include Friends, Scrubs and Arrested Development.

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6 Responses to “What is a chesterfield?”

  1. I remember when you used to say this term a lot. Your mother still does. It’s really interesting to learn about Canadian English!

  2. Thanks for the info! My grandparents (from Saskatchewan) also used to say chesterfield. I came across your website while writing about the word for a linguistics class.

    • Thanks Ann! I appreciate the comment. I’ve never been to Saskatchewan before… I grew up in Ontario but never made the drive from the east to the west coast. Maybe one day!

      All the best to you.

  3. I grew up in Saskatchewan. To me the ‘good’ piece of furniture in the living room was the chesterfield. The couch was the old piece that was now in the rec room or porch. I’ve lived in the US for over 30 years and still can’t get used to saying couch, so I usually think of the chesterfield as the sofa. Couch seems lower class.

    • Hi Janeen,

      As someone who also moved from Canada to live in the US for some years, I was the same way – I never called my sofa “the couch”. Maybe I have the same image of a couch in my head as you did… something beaten up, and maybe stashed into the basement for use down there… certainly not something that you might put in your living room with a couple of fancy stuffed pillows on top of it. Does that make sense?

      Thanks again for your thoughts!

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About the Author


Website: Brian Crawford
I'm a Canadian and British dual citizen with an internationally-focused American MBA and an MS in International Project Management from a French business school. I am PMP, ScrumMaster, and ITIL Foundation certified. I'm particularly into travel, writing, and learning about different languages and cultures.