Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Whither the rumpus room?

“I guess I was asleep in the rumpus room”: someone on the witness stand, in the Perry Mason episode “The Case of the Dead Ringer” (April 17, 1966).

You don’t hear much about rumpus rooms these days. The Oxford English Dictionary defines rumpus room like so: “originally and chiefly North American[,] a room used for recreation, which does not need to be kept tidy.” Merriam-Webster brings the meaning down to earth: “a room usually in the basement of a home that is used for games, parties, and recreation.” The etymology of rumpus is uncertain; the OED suggests a possible connection to romp. Which makes me realize for the first time ever that the name of the television show Romper Room must have been a play on rumpus room. Now that’s what I call life-long learning.

The OED has a first citation for rumpus room from 1930, from the Wisconsin State Journal:

Cellar space nowadays . . . rejoices in such up-to-date names as “game room,” “smoking room,” and one home owner even calls it his ”rumpus room”!
He must have been quite a card, that home owner. I especially like this citation::
Betty brought university friends home for many good sing-songs and games in the rumpus room which we fixed up in the basement.
That’s from John Hiram Blackburn’s Land of Promise (1970), which Google Books tells me is an account of pioneer farming in Alberta, Canada.

The Google Books Ngram Viewer suggests the waning fortune of the North American rumpus room:

[Rumpus room is really in the basement. Click for a larger room.]

From better days:

[“Fix up that rumpus room the family is longing for!” From an advertisement for Nairn Linoleum. Life, March 17, 1941. Click for a larger view.]

I like this one too. Lexicographers, take note:

[Life, February 19, 1945. Click for a boozier view.]

Clearly, a ping-pong table is de rigueur. I am slightly freaked out by the presence of weapons in each room, especially when the occupants of room no. 2 have given themselves over to drink. Perhaps the host thought to hide the bow that should go with those arrows. As a reader pointed out, they’re darts. But still weapons in the wrong hands!

[Kinsey: there’s a brand name that must have run into complications. But the brand lives on.]

comments: 10

Anonymous said...

I think those are darts, not arrows. Or were you kidding?

Michael Leddy said...

You’re right. Thank you. I thought they were in a vase. Now I see that they’re planted in that whatever it is. I’ll revise.

Geo-B said...

There is a kids' garment called a romper. But, in terms of Romper Room, romp is a verb, which pertains to kids, while I don't think rumpus is a verb. (Sendak wrote, Let the wild rumpus start [or begin]).

Michael Leddy said...

No, just a noun. But the similarity in sound struck me this morning. I guess you could think of tykes as rompers too.

Daughter Number Three said...

I have two associations with the word...

Maurice Sendak's use of it in the phrase "wild rumpus" (which is now the name of a great children's bookstore in Minneapolis).


My Uncle Bob's actual rumpus room at my Dad's parents's house. Bob is 15 years younger than my father, and so when I was a kid, he was a college-age. He had a space in the basement, which you entered from an external (Wizard of Oz/Kansas-house-style) door. We were allowed in it much, so it was a mysterious and adult place. I think it had a linoleum floor kind of like the one in the image you showed.

J D Lowe said...

In the part of Toronto I grew up in in the '60s, these rooms were called 'rec rooms', short for 'recreation room', although my parents spelt it 'wreck room' :-) and had a sign made to emphasize the point. These rooms were always in the basement. Faux wood paneling was de rigueur. They were usually in a state of wreckage because that's where the children were stashed. My sample size is small, and no doubt variations abound.

Chris said...

Let the wild rumpus start!

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks, everyone, under the spell of the rumpus/rec/wreck room.

Slywy said...

I've heard rec room before. Same as family room? In a trailer, rumpus room opportunities are limited.

Michael Leddy said...

I think more or less the same. Limited in apartments too. But I had a friend in high school with a pool table in the basement. But the basement was just called “the basement.”