dens and forts

When my brothers and I were small we made lots of forts, usually with the (US-preferred) couch/(UK-preferred) sofa cushions. In the winter, we made snowforts in the snowbanks in the backyard (AmE; BrE = back garden). Our cushion-forts were especially important to me during the annual televising of The Wizard of Oz. I always watched with my head peeping out of the fort so that I could duck back in quickly whenever the flying monkeys came on screen.

Meanwhile on this fair island the children were making dens. These days, child development experts are afraid that dens/forts may be going the way of tiddlywinks now that children's time is taken up with organi{s/z}ed or electronic activities. The Guardian's Family section has recently run a few articles about den-making, including some how-to tips. Bring back the den/fort!

A related BrE term is Wendy house, which Americans would usually call a playhouse. A Wendy house (after Wendy in Peter Pan) is typically not made by the child but made or bought by the parent, and is usually situated in the garden/yard.


  1. Don't you Americans use 'den' to mean a room in the house?

  2. We do, but I think I can't think of anyone who actually calls a room a den in real life these days. I think of it as being a 1960s kind of word--Darren in Bewitched always retired to his den. In these days of home-working, I think one's more likely to call it an office or a study.

    In the 1970s when I was growing up, all of a sudden everyone started having family rooms where their dens used to be--or sometimes added onto the house or in a converted basement. The family room was usually organized around a TV, but would also include games (a pingpong table or pool table if you were lucky), shag carpets and furniture that you'd sink way down into. Oh, and wood panel(l)ing. Mustn't forget the wood panel(l)ing.

  3. I always understood a den to mean the same thing as a family room. A casual, informal room for activities including but not limited to TV. Not for entertaining guests.

  4. In Australia, we would build a cubby or cubby house. These terms could be used to describe either the structure build by children from cushions, table and blanket, sheets etc (in Australia we don't have much opportunity to build out of snow!); or for the more permanent "play house" structure built by adults.


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)