What’s a ‘chifferobe’?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: chifferobe…

I read a number of positive reviews of the novel An American Marriage by Tayari Jones before it scampered to fame as an Oprah Book Club Selection. Honestly, that designation only made me more resistant about picking it up, but the generally positive review from NPR helped sway my opinion.

One thing I didn’t expect from the book was that it would give me my word of the week: chifferobe (which is also spelled chifforobe.) Here is how Jones used it:

[He] never stole from her — even though her pocketbook was right there on the chifferobe.

By context, I could tell a chifferobe was a piece of furniture. A type of buffet, perhaps? Turns out, it’s more like a wardrobe, or a standing closet, with both drawers and space for hanging clothes. (See photo, above.) 

The term is a 1903 merger of chiffonier and wardrobe. As I suspected, chiffonnier is a French word that described a small cabinet with drawers for needlework and cloth. It came from the term chiffon, a diminutive of chiffe, meaning “rag, piece of cloth, scrap, flimsy stuff.: orignally meaning “rag gatherer.”

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on April 4/18.

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