Pantry, Larder, Still Room

Need… more… cake!

Dear Word Detective: We were touring someone’s new home when they showed us a little room off of the kitchen. Our hostess called it her “larder.” I would have called it a “pantry.” My British friend said it was more of a “still room.” Ok, what is going on? Why all these different names? Is it possible to have a pantry, larder and still room all in one house? — Margherita Wohletz.

Sure, why not? I once lived in a house with two kitchens. And the house I grew up in had what we called a “butler’s pantry,” a sort of little anteroom between the kitchen and the dining room where the dishes and bowls, etc., were kept. Also the gloves, hats, hammers and other tools, overcoats, mismatched shoes, and various dead appliances. If you misplaced something in that house, it was most likely to be found in the butler’s pantry. It’s a shame we never had room for an actual butler.

pantry08.pngI would have guessed that whatever term the hostess used for her little room was what either the architect or real estate agent called it, but it’s a bit hard to believe a “Realtor” (a trademarked term, by the way) would use the leaden term “larder.” These are the folks, after all, who transformed the “dead end street” into the fashionable “cul de sac,” and they have an ear for hoity-toity locutions. In any case, “larder” is the oldest of the three terms, appearing in English in the early 14th century, and originally meaning, as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it, “a room or closet … in which meat and other provisions are stored.” A closet full of meat may strike us today as questionable, but “larder” does come from the Latin “lardum” (pork fat, bacon). The meat in question, however, was almost certainly originally bacon or other cured pork products, making refrigeration less critical. “Larder” today is primarily used figuratively to mean “supply of food” or “livelihood” (“Bob’s job was boring, but it kept the larder full”).

“Pantry” appeared in English just a few years after “larder” in the 14th century, and originally meant a small storeroom for bread and other provisions, rooted in the Old French “paneterie,” literally “bread room” (“panis” being Latin for “bread”). The purview of “pantry” was expanded over the centuries, and today a pantry can be used to store canned goods, dishes, silverware and other non-food items.

“Still room” is a new one on me, but if I ever live in a house with a pantry again, I’m definitely going to call it a “still room.” The “still” in this term, which dates back to the early 18th century, was a distilling apparatus, and the “still room” was the place where the kitchen staff would distill various liqueurs and cordials, as well as put up preserves, etc. In 19th century usage, the “still room” was where desserts as well as liqueurs were kept and tea and coffee prepared. I think your friend should forget that “larder” business and call her little room a “still room.”

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