Daily Archives: July 14, 2012


Even if you’ve never heard this word before, I bet you can recognize it and nod and smile. Not everyone has a floordrobe, but more people than will admit it have one at least part of the time, and pretty much anyone who was ever a teenager will have had one (and I worry about anyone who made it through adolescence without one).

If for some reason the meaning is not altogether self-evident (perhaps you’re just a really tidy person), or if perhaps you just want to amuse yourself by seeing other people’s floordrobes, have a look at all these Instagram photos tagged with floordrobe: statigr.am/tag/floordrobe.

Got the picture? It’s like a flood of robes (and other clothes) on your floorboards. You may even need to seek a ford to get over it. When I was 13 or 14, I had to clear three little gaps on the floor between my bedroom door and my bed: one at the door, one partway to the bed, and another at the bed. Step, step, there. Now, of course, I actually use my closet – except for when it would be too much bother just at bedtime, or something like that.

And no, it’s not just a guy thing. All the blogs and similar sites that have floordrobe in them, at least of the ones I’ve found, are by young women about clothes: The Floordrobe (on tumblr), lexiesfloordrobe.com, the floordrobe (on WordPress), Hannah’s fashion-floordrobe, Welcome To My Floordrobe… you get the idea. Oh, and she might not like my saying this, but my wife has a floordrobe too. So there.

And yet, for something that’s probably been around as long as there have been floors and wardrobes, this form of clothing storage appears to have gotten the name floordrobe only quite recently. Most instances you will find are in the last half-decade to decade, and the earliest citation I’ve seen is one Word Spy found from 1994, from the Washington Post.

Say, how long have floor and wardrobe been around? Well, both are old Germanic words. Floor was flor in Old English and meant what it means today. Wardrobe did come from Old Norman French warderobe, a variant of Old French garderobe – but Old French got it from Germanic roots. And ward is seen in Old English: weard, “a guard, or guarding”. Old French robe, meaning “long outer garment”, meant before that “plunder, booty” (somewhat like the acquisitions those floordrobe bloggers linked above show, only of course we assume they actually paid for their loot); it comes from a Germanic source that is also the source of rob. Morphologically, you may note that floordrobe is as sloppy as a floordrobe: it has that d hanging there that comes from the ward that’s been replaced. But this portmanteau word works by the amusement of rhyming.

The vocal gesture of saying floordrobe is very, very similar to that of wardrobe; the only difference is that the /w/, with the lips rounded and the back of the tongue raised, is now /f/ – lips occluded with teeth, so a narrower opening – and /l/, which touches the tongue tip, and raises it at the back. In short, where /w/ is suspended in the air, /fl/ comes into contact like clothes on the floor. And it has the voicelessness of the /f/.

From there the word hollows into a mid back round vowel, which leads into /r/; it touches again at the tongue tip, /d/ (affricated due to the following /r/); then the gesture is reversed, liquid /r/ to back round vowel to a stop at the lips. If you say wardrobe slowly a few times, you get a sense of your tongue and lips as like a camera lens focusing back and forth or zooming in and out; the floordrobe version complicates it and makes it messier.

All that back vowel, liquid, retroflex, et cetera articulation makes the word suitable for a somewhat slovenly locution. Say it slowly as though your mouth were moving in molasses: “fflllooorrrrdrrrooobe.” It almost sounds like HAL 9000 slowing down in its cybernetic dementia. But you can of course say the word quickly, too: a flip, a shrug, a toss, like a sweater being gripped and everted and shrugged and doffed and ejected onto the rug.


You are in the milieu of an oratory, the floor around you reeling in the half dark, warps of sunlight from the clerestory woven with the woof of a lyrical aria, no, not even that – not opera or oratory but a spiritual:

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the saviour did come for to die
For poor ornery people like you and like I…

Ornery… are you so inured to the universe? But what is this arrangement of orbs that rallies around the origin of the circle dominated by the dome? Is it an horarius, an horary rotator revealing the hour airily? No, it artfully represents the errant planets – planet, wanderer: they wander, these spheres, in the music, in no hurry, and if you handle the gears they turn with a sound that is as liquid as the movement, a rolling sound that names the object: orrery.

An orrery! A whirl of worlds around the sun. A set of orbs wandering wondrously, such as this small one here that represents our own sphere on which we all wander and wonder. We know a boilery is a place where they boil, and a brewery where they brew; owlery is owlish behaviour, an antonym to raillery; so is an orrery a place where we have or or or, or a tendency to find such options, such alternate universes to revel in, a choice between horror and hooray in every rearing hour? Or is it really an errory, so error-riddled even its error is erring?

An orrery, really, is this mechanical assembly that represents the solar system. Designs have been made for such apparatuses through the eras, and various erudite minds have endeavoured to plan it, but in modern times two horarists, clockmakers, George Graham and Thomas Tompion, made the first as we know it in 1704. They asked John Rowley (a nice rolling word, Rowley) to make a copy for Prince Eugene of Savoy. In all of this, are we hearing of it being called a graham or a tompion or a rowley or a savoy? Hardly. But Rowley made another for his patron, Charles Boyle, fourth earl of Orrery. When he rendered it, he declared it to be an orrery.

And where is Orrery? Some rural area? In fact, it’s in Eire (Ireland), in the south – Cork. The peerage was created for the soldier Roger Boyle in 1660. The name is an anglicization of a place name, originally a tribe name: Orbhraighe. “Orb’s people.”

Wander around this orrery. Watch as the world turns; hear the wrangling gears of the music of the spheres, “orrery, orrery.” You are on the earth, one of our orb’s people, and this rounding ball is a representation of it all: in that spot there you are, regarding your earth, hearing this air. You wonder and you wander, whether you plan it or not, but you are always around this planetarium, this orrery, with all the ornery people, and all these ors to turn again.