An original box for a Barbie Go-Together Furniture Kit, circa 1963, is currently on display at the California Design, 1930-1965 exhibit at LACMA.*
“Chaise longue & side table with 3-D garden setting and accessories!”
Mattel no longer sells this kit, but even if it did, I doubt the seating element would be called a “chaise longue,” which is the correct term. (It’s French for “long chair.”) eBay sellers don’t accept that spelling: they all call it a chaise “lounge,” and so do many other Americans. (In Britain, apparently, the chaise longue is seen only in museums.) In fact, hewing to the correct pronunciation and spelling is liable to tag you as (a) a stickler, (b) a snob, (c) an interior decorator, or (d) French.
But beware the recency illusion: “longue” began shifting to “lounge” at least 150 years ago, according to Michael Quinion of World Wide Words. In his terrific memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid**, Bill Bryson, who was born in 1951, recounts this story from his childhood in Des Moines:
I remember one day my father came in, quite excitedly, with a word written down on a piece of paper.
“What’s this word?” he said to my mother. The word was “chaise longue.”
“Shays lounge,” she said, pronouncing it as all Iowans, perhaps all Americans, did. A chaise longue in those days exclusively signified a type of adjustable patio lounger that had lately become fashionable. They came with a padded cushion that you brought in every night if you thought someone might take them. Our cushion had a coach and four horses galloping across it. It didn’t need to come in at night.
“Look again,” urged my father.
“Shays lounge,” repeated my mother, not to be bullied.
“Well, it’s just ‘long,’” my father said gently, but gave it a Gallic purr: “Shays lohhhnggg,” he repeated. “Isn’t that something? I must have looked at the word a hundred times and I’ve never noticed that it wasn’t lounge.”
“Lawngg,” said my mother marveling slightly. “That’s going to take some getting used to.”
“It’s French,” my father explained.
“Yes, I expect it is,” said my mother. “I wonder what it means.”
For the record, my family also owned a shays lounge with covers that didn't need to come in at night.
* LACMA is one of more than 60 arts institutions participating in Pacific Standard Time, a fascinating and multifaceted retrospective of Southern California art, architecture, and design from 1945 through 1980. I visited six of the participating museums last weekend: the Huntington, the Norton Simon, the Skirball, the Getty, the Hammer, and LACMA. Pacific Standard Time continues through May 2012.
** Highly recommended. The audiobook, which is read by the author, is especially wonderful: Bryson is as lively a reader as he is a writer.