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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) the space around a bed, or between a bed and a wall

Proving once more that there’s probably a word for everything, the space around your bed is called the ruelle.

Unsurprisingly given that –elle ending, this is a word English has borrowed from French. Perhaps more surprising is that it is over 600 years old, and first began appearing in English texts back in the fourteenth century.

In its native French, it’s even older—but when it first emerged there, ruelle had a slightly difference meaning.

Descended from Latin, that –elle ending is a diminutive-forming suffix. (Its Latin ancestor, –ella, is the same ending found in words like salmonella—a very small thing named after a Dr Salmon, no less.) Hence in French, a coupelle is a little cup. A douelle is a little moat or ditch. A louvetelle is a wolf cub. A boîtelette is a little box. An ombrelle is a parasol (literally, a little umbrella). And a ruelle is a little rue—a small passageway or alley.

It was in this sense that the word first emerged in Norman French in the early 1100s, with the more specialized sense—in reference to the narrow alley-like space beside a bed—emerged slightly later.

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