bed linen(s): duvets and comforters

If you want to know how to buy bed sheets in the US or UK, then the last post (on bed sizes) is the best place to start, since the sizes of beds affect the sizes of sheets and related things. But now let's talk about what we call the bed linen or bedclothes or bedding-- starting with those collective terms.

All those terms can be found in both BrE and AmE. Whether you spell bed linen and bedclothes as one word or two, with or without a hyphen, varies, but it's not a US/UK issue. Two-word bed linen and one-word bedclothes are the most common forms of their respective lexical items in both dialects. Bedding and bedclothes have other meanings, of course, but comparing the relative numbers of the terms is helpful for considering whether there are differences in their commonality in the US and UK. Here's what the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) and the British National Corpus (BNC) have to say about how often these words occur per 100 million words of text and speech. (The bed linen and bedclothes numbers include spellings with and without spaces and hyphens.)

per 100m words AmE BrE
bedding 324 394
bed()clothes  57 149
bed()linen* 41 107

BNC is older than COCA, so I checked these numbers against the comparable 1990s data in the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA), and it looked about the same. So: the terms are ranked the same in both dialects, with bedding most common and bed()linen least common--but there's less use of these terms in general in the American corpus (which either means that there's less talk of these things in the sources that the American corpus has used or that Americans are more apt to say more specific words like sheets or covers when they can. The time that would be required to determine which of those possibilities (if either) is right would require me to pay myself a (probably orig. AmE) helluva lot of overtime for this blog, and I can't afford that much nothing.

But there is a twist in the tale that that table tells, and it's to be found in the asterisk.  In the 'bed sizes' post, I wrote bed linens (plural) and commenter Picky asked about whether this plural was American. I hadn't noticed this before, but yes, it is. COCA has nearly five times as many bed linens as bed linen, whereas BNC has less than a handful of plural ones. 

per 100m words AmE BrE
bed()linen 7 105
bed()linens 34 2

These terms can include pillow cases as well as the bigger pieces, but I'm already spending too much time and space on this, so I'm deciding right now to promise everything to do with pillows in another post, just to make sure that I go to bed again before my (BrE) holiday/(AmE) vacation ends.* I'm going to focus here on the most transatlantically confusing bed coverings: the duvet and the comforter.

The original 'bed size' post was written because of a question that Purple Claire had asked on Twitter, but before that question, she had asked another: "What's duvet cover in American English? I think they think duvet cover is the whole thing, incl the eiderdown..." Let me tell you my personal experience of duvets, as an American who grew up in a very cold part of America in the 1960s-80s.

When I was little, we had (orig. AmE) bedspreads. These were not filled, but were often (at that time/in my realm of experience) chenille or candlewick. People with more crafty families than mine might have homemade quilts, which have padding, but not fluffy filling.

Then, when I was 10 or so, comforters became popular in my world. We bought them at Sears and mine had a pink gingham pattern on it. It was filled with some sort of polyester filling and could be put into a washing machine. But we wouldn't put it into the machine anymore often than we put our bedspreads in (i.e. not very often) because they were always separated from our skin by a flat sheet.  The OED defines this US sense of comforter as 'a quilted coverlet'. The things I would call comforter are quilted to keep the filling from dropping to one end, but they not what I would call quilts, or even coverlets, since I'd not apply those words to anything so thick and squishy. (But it's perfectly possible--though hard to tell from OED quotations--that comforter has been applied to less squishy things in the past...or present even.) The Wikipedia entry for comforter calls it 'a type of blanket', but that is similarly odd to me. Blankets, in my world, don't have filling.

I don't think I came across duvets until I was in my 20s and travel(l)ing away from my home country. I've seen comforter translated as 'American for duvet', but that's not quite right.  A duvet is made to be covered by something else--they are like pillows in that way.  (Duvets are also traditionally filled with down, but that's not always the case now. I think I had come across the term eiderdown for such a thing while I still lived in the US--but just the term, in the context of reading about something European. I'd not experienced the thing.)  When I first slept in hotels that used duvets in the way they are intended,  I was put off by not having a top sheet. I didn't fully understand that the cover on the duvet would have been changed for each guest. It took me quite a while to get used to the feeling of sleeping with a duvet and without a top sheet, as one doesn't get the same sense of being 'tucked in'. It's what I like now, though. While I think it's probably easier for one's partner to steal the covers when using a duvet and no top sheet, one doesn't get one's feet tangled up in the tucked-but-tugged sheet when that happens.

So, returning to PurpleClaire's search for duvet covers in the US, one of the places she looked was, and it does look to me there like what they're calling a duvet cover set does involve a cover for a duvet. (At first I thought--and this may be true elsewhere--that she was finding people who used duvet cover pleonastically--a duvet for covering your bed, rather than a cover for your duvet). What is weird on the Target site, from a UK perspective, is that the 'duvet cover set' includes the duvet. In Europe/the UK, you'd not get the duvet with the set, as (a) you might want to change your colo(u)r scheme before you need a new duvet and (b) you might have more than one duvet for different times of the year.

(Somebody's intending to comment that duvets are called doonas in Australian English. There might not be as much joy in doing so now that I've said it.)

Which brings us to tog. Nowhere in the Target description do we find this word. But check out the (UK) Marks & Spencer categories for duvets:

Duvets in categories: '4.5 tog & below, 7.5 tog to 10.5 tog, 13.5 tog and above, All seasons'

To give the Collins Dictionary definition:
a.  a unit of thermal resistance used to measure the power of insulation of a fabric, garment, quilt, etc. The tog-value of an article is equal to ten times the temperature difference between its two faces, in degrees Celsius, when the flow of heat across it is equal to one watt per m2

While I knew that we don't see this word in AmE, I was surprised not to find it in the online versions of the American Heritage or Merriam-Webster dictionaries (other, unrelated tog entries were there)--as I would have thought that maybe skiers or someone would have needed it. The OED says that this sense of tog (derived, they seem to suggest, from the 'clothing' sense of tog) is 'modelled on the earlier U.S. term clo'.  Merriam-Webster says only that clo is an abbreviation of clothing--I can't find it in other dictionaries, but Wikipedia says that the "standard amount of insulation required to keep a resting person warm in a windless room at 70 °F (21.1 °C) is equal to one clo." At any rate, no one seems to be using it to sell duvets or comforters.

I have a feeling there's something else I meant to mention here and forgot about.** But this is long enough, don't you think? I reserve the right to add whatever I forgot tomorrow morning, after I've spent the night talking to my bed linen(s) again. Pillows must wait for another post--not necessarily the next one.  I might wait for insomnia to start leaving me alone, so that the topic will not seem so cruel.

Before I go, some Other Business:
  • For the Olympic season, I wrote a little piece for Emphasis Writing's e-bulletin on '10 Differences between US and UK English'. (Many of the topics I discuss there can be found elsewhere, in more detail, on this blog too.)
  • I'm speaking at BrightonSEO Conference on 14 September. That's SEO, as in Search Engine Optimization, which I know approximately nothing about, but they seem like a fun bunch to subject to my rants. I'm afraid it's fully booked, but if you have any funny US/UK search engine tales you want to share with me, feel free to email me--I love new material!
  • I'm also taking my How Americans Saved the English Language talk to a new audience on 9 October: Brighton Skeptics [sic!] in the Pub. If you're in the area and haven't already heard all those jokes, then do join us at the Caroline of Brunswick, 8pm.

* I failed. This is being posted 10 days after I returned to the UK.
** (Postscript) The things I forgot and many more are discussed in the comments--some good ones there, have/take a look.


  1. We both had a lot of confusion on our first few B&B stays using duvets/duvet covers and no top sheet. I'm unusual in that I prefer several layers of no-fill blankets to having a thick comforter or duvet, though. Once February rolls around (in N Yorks) I've got about 7 layers on my bed, including fake down, microfleece, and other warm layers.
    I will say one AmE you didn't address was bedspreads, which I would say are the American alternative to comforters.
    Great info, though, as usual! I've suggested so many of your poststo people; they're great!

    1. Bedspreads are not the American equivalent to comforters. My family has had ones made of corduroy and others made of plain cotton. When I was living in Florida, I bought one made of crocheted cotton lace over a cotton liner (a Vanna White special) and I've seen, and owned, them as just crocheted cotton without a liner. And eyelet embroidery. And heirloom quality, homemade embroidered linen. It depends a lot on the climate and cultural heritage.

  2. But I did mention bedspreads! 7th paragraph, if I counted right.

    And I remembered the point I was going to make: British people need to think about togs and change their duvets seasonally because their houses are less temperature-control(l)ed than US ones.

  3. Am I correct in believing that most Americans pronounce the name of this item as "doo-VAY", while most Britishers say "DOO-vet"?

    1. I would say that most of the British, and those of British-descent around the world, would say DOO-vay. Not DOO-vet.

  4. Yes, it's part of the pattern I discussed back here. Should've mentioned that in the post!
    (I wonder if, with sufficient motivation, I could have written an entire book on this subject.)

  5. When duvets first became common in the UK, which I would guess from my childhood memories would be in the seventies, they were generally known as continental quilts. Very exotic!

    Thinking back to those days reminds me of electric blankets - pretty common then. Were they known in the USA? I suspect earlier widespread use of central heating would make them less needed in America. They went underneath the bottom sheet, and were put on an hour or so before going to bed so it was warm when you got in. The ones I knew had to be switched off before you got in, but there were others that could be left on while you slept.

  6. Oh, another thing I could have written about! In my experience, US electric blankets are things you put on top of you (with the top sheet between you and blanket). In UK, they're more common under you--under the bottom sheet.

    I've had both and consider the under-sheet version nicer, but I wouldn't want to sleep with wires all the time.

    Many UKers still warm their beds in winter with a hot water bottle. These are curiosities in the US. Electric heating pads are used more in the US for the other use of hot water bottles: relieving aches.

  7. Oh, and on the term tog, and duvets in general, the pretty definitive British explanation of them nowadays is comedian Rhod (sic) Gilbert's famous rant about buying a duvet

    1. Rhod is the correct spelling.

  8. Since you've stolen a march on us Aussies regarding "doona", let me mention "manchester".

    This is generally used as a generic term for bed clothes plus towels, and for the section of a department store that sells them. E.g. "Shop the latest in manchester for your baby from David Jones with cot sheet sets, blankets and Grobags available from David Jones online."

    Dictionaries label "manchester" in this sense as being from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

    The term is not necessarily known to everyone in Australia: the comedy show "Kath and Kim" had an episode where Kath was bewildered when a shop assistant told her she would have to go to Manchester to get a certain item. The word may have a flavour of retailers' jargon about it.

    1. I live in South Africa and I have NEVER heard the term 'manchester' used for anything other than the UK city.

  9. I miss tog ratings here in the US - how are you supposed to be able to compare the warmth of duvets from different companies? Our 13.5 tog duvet from the UK is far too warm in a centrally-heated American house, and in the summer all that's needed is the duvet cover!

    I've bought duvet sets from Target and they did NOT include the duvet itself.

    For a long time one of the few places where I could find duvet covers in the US was at The Company Store - and they were (are) expensive.

  10. US: At one time, anyway, electric blankets were considered hazardous shock risks when used under the bottom sheet, weren't they? And that's with just 110 v of electricity.

  11. @Fnarf:

    This ex-Brit says "DYOO-vay".

  12. I find "Bed Clothes" an interesting choice for linens. I'd never think to say that, as bed clothes are what we (in our house) call pajamas, as in, "Go put on your bed clothes, it's time to settle down."

  13. Ah, to live again in a climate where one needs a duvet .... ;)

  14. "bed clothes"? Whaaa? Who says that? It's "bed sheets", people. Anything else is wrong.

    (... West Coast US, for the record.)

  15. @Almost American - Americans don't need tog ratings because they (traditionally) adjust temperature by adding or removing sheets, blankets, quilts or comforters, not by switching to a different duvet. Summer nights usually require only a sheet.

  16. I'm from the Mid-Atlantic, and both my parent's families are from PA and NY (then California...but, anyway,) and I've always used 'duvet' to refer to the cover that was put on over the down comforter. The down comforters sold by a lot of old school online retailers, e.g. Land's End tend to be 'naked,' it's just the basic white down blanket that needs a duvet. I would never call the down comforter itself a 'duvet,' to me that's the inside!

    We always made our beds w/sheets, fitted sheet and top sheet, and maybe a fleece blanket or other mid-level blanket in the serious cold.

    For Almost American, we use the term 'fill power' to discuss the insulating capacity of down comforters. I've been able to find the duvet covers almost everywhere, and for cheap: Bed, Bath & Beyond (queen-size purple corduroy for $20!,) Macy's, Target, honestly, I've never not found one when searching.
    Good luck!

  17. My Scottish friend, who was at boarding school from the age of 8, calls them downies, which seems to be a contraction of eiderdown.

  18. It was a "continental quilt" when it arrived in Australia in the 70's, too. But then a company called Kimpton started selling it as a "Doona", and the name became generalised to all brands.

  19. Hot water bottles in winter? I've had mine in the UK this week!

  20. I'm British and duvets came from the Continent. When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, we had two flat sheets, two or three blankets and a cover, possibly an eiderdown - an eiderdown is like your quilt and not often washed. Here in Germany there aren't all these discussions of how many togs in the duvet.

  21. Scottish "downie" is perhaps more likely cognate with Danish _dyne_, which latter encompasses more than just duvet.

  22. When I was a boy, everybody I knew had two sheets and a number of woollen blankets that varied according to bedroom temperature. These were all tucked in when you made the bed.

    In colder seasons, we might have an eiderdown over these. This was made of down (or down substitute) sewn up in cotton. Unlike a feather bed it was stitched all over to keep the filling evenly distributed. It was of the same size as the top of the bed, so was not tucked in.

    Hotel rooms and some private bedrooms would have a bedspread over everything. This was big enough for the edges to fall down at the edges but was not tucked in. Its primary function was to keep the other elements in place. If it was heavy, it wasn't so much to add warmth as to keep the eiderdown from slipping away.

    The word counterpane was still around — if only on the radio favourite dancing on the ceiling (click to hear); I never understood what it meant. The word quilt was also around, but in our house it wasn't really understood. My mother made what she called a patchwork quilt for my bed. The idea presumably came from American quilts, but my bed was an assembly of simple squares of knitting in different colours.

    Many hotel beds have most or all of the elements of my childhood, but I don't often use the same terms to describe them. There have been so many changes since then, that I tend to fall back on the general term cover. My wife grew up in Soviet Russia and, although as bilingual as you get, uses blanket to refer to anything warm that goes into a duvet cover.

    A viral joke that caught my father's fancy and never let go:
    She's been down three times!.

  23. "Somebody's intending to comment that duvets are called doonas in Australian English"

    Only in the eastern (and most populated) part of the country! Further west (e.g. here in Adelaide) it's a quilt. Personally, I always think a doona sounds like some sort of kitchen implement: it's a very hard, solid-sounding word.

  24. A friend passed on this discussion of togs and bedding on
    Would I Lie to You?

  25. UK, I've never heard "duvet" pronounced with a t, but always doo-vay. I assume because it entered the language relatively late.

    In any case, my family refer to ours as quilts and they have quilt covers.


  26. Eiderdowns in my experience were invariably covered in satin.

  27. Bryn

    You're right of course. As a boy I didn't know what satin was. As an adult I didn't really care.

  28. I always assumed the French pronunciation DOO-vey or similar and it's the only pronunciation I remember hearing having lived in several parts of the UK. I guess in my mind it ties back to the "continental quilt" that I remember hearing in my teens when the rest of my family switched to using them. At the time I slept in a sleeping bag whether camping or home on a bed.

  29. To me (late 50s, BrE, southern), "Bedding" refers to everything that goes on to a bed to enable me to sleep in it; the sheets and pillowcases are generically called linen (I wish!!! Usually poly-cotton, as who has time to iron?).

    And a bed-spread is what goes on top of the bed in the day time to keep it free from dust. It is removed at night and folded up - personally, I only ever put ours on our bed if we are not going to sleep in it that night, but then, I am lazy. At school, one had to put them on every day, and then fold the sides up so the cleaner could sweep under the bed! But it was very often so cold in the dormitories (ice inside the windows in the mornings!) that you kept the bed-spread on all night, too! We had two blankets provided by the school, and were expected to bring a travelling-rug and an eiderdown (see David's excellent description above) to be added as needed at night. Incidentally, the sheets we had back then were flat, and each week you discarded the bottom sheet that you had lain on (it, and the pillowcase, went to the laundry), put the previous week's top sheet over the mattress and under-blanket, and used a fresh top sheet and pillowcase that came straight from the laundry and were very starched! Most comfortable, really....

    Like many, I didn't much care for duvets at first, and only really started using them regularly when I married, but thirty-mumble years later, I'd hate to go back to sheets and blankets.

  30. US - I had NEVER heard the term bedclothes meaning what I'd call bedding; I too thought bedclothes were pajamas, or PJs.

  31. Surely nighties and pyjamas[BrE/AmE]pajamas are nightclothes; bedclothes are what goes on the bed!

  32. Mrs Redboots - people wear clothes (I thought). Beds wear covers. Obviously, I was wrong.

  33. In my (British) youth my bed had an eiderdown (satin or shot silk on top, cotton underneath) over the blankets, and a bedspread over that during the day. A comforter was a muffler or scarf, of the long knitted variety not the square silk sort.

    Nowadays in Australia, as noted, doonas are more or less universal, with or without intervening sheet.

    PS, long live the hot water bottle, couldn't get through the winter without it (once a Brit...)

    Thanks for the wonderful blog, Lynne, I enjoy it so much.

  34. It's one of those oddities of international trade that in the UK we borrowed the word duvet from the French (where it means "down" as in feathers) - perhaps because pioneers had been introduced to the thing itself on ski-ing holidays in France (or the German equivalent didn't sound as good?); but Australians more commonly adopted the Danish word.

  35. David Crosbie and Mrs Redboots - I concur with all your British memories about bed clothes and eiderdowns (I always assumed that sheets = bed cloths = bedclothes).
    When we lived in Canada 1979-81, continental quilts were a new idea, available in M&S (in their short-lived foray into N America) and some department stores. 1. They were only thin because the central heating was kept on all night in the cold winters (it's still very unusual to do this in the UK). 2. Covers could be made up from sets of sheets - I could not find ready-made covers in Canadian shops.

  36. Ginger Nut, Brian, Roger Owen Green

    The OED has an entry for bed-clothes. The earliest known use is dated a (before) 1387. (I think that means it was written down earlier and copied in 1387.)

    It seems to be something we in Britain hear a lot without reading it much. On this thread we've written bed clothes and bedclothes. I susoect a proof reader or sub-editor would alter these to bed-clothes.

  37. My Irish mammy says "bedclothes" for sheets, pillowcase, blankets. I would restrict "bed linen" to sheets, duvet cover, and pillowcase, ie the things that tend to come in a matching set. "Quilt" = "duvet" for me; I recognise the difference but can't be bothered maintaining it in my personal lexicon. In any case, neither quilt nor duvet nor blanket nor pillow counts as "bed linen", though they would all count as "bedding".

  38. I would agree with both you and your mother, Mollymooly! I do call it a duvet, but if someone said "quilt" I would assume that is what they meant unless they were American or specified patchwork! We used to call them continental quilts, and I believe my mother, in her 80s, still does - she certainly still says "washing-up machine" for dishwasher and "deep freeze" for freezer....

  39. Mrs Redboots, mollymooly

    Between you, you made me realise the distinction I tend to make between bedding, bedclothes and the various items that go to make them up.

    Although countable and plural, bedclothes of me is just as much an assembly as singular uncountable bedding.

    Bedding, as Annabel says, is the assembly of stuff that goes on a bed. (I would add that for impromptu sleeping on the floor, bedding might also include some sort of mattress.)

    For me, bedclothes is also an assembly. It consists of that part of the bedding that goes over you — everything but the pillow(s) and the lower sheet. It occurs (for me) exclusively in contexts like:
    He kicked the bedclothes off in his sleep.
    The bedclothes were in a heap on the floor.

  40. Also hide under the bedclothes

  41. I've just realised that no reference has yet been made to "counterpane".

    The Land of Counterpane
    by Robert Louis Stevenson

    When I was sick and lay a-bed, 
    I had two pillows at my head, 
    And all my toys beside me lay, 
    To keep me happy all the day. 

    And sometimes for an hour or so 
    I watched my leaden soldiers go, 
    With different uniforms and drills, 
    Among the bed-clothes, through the hills; 

    And sometimes sent my ships in fleets 
    All up and down among the sheets; 
    Or brought my trees and houses out, 
    And planted cities all about. 

    I was the giant great and still 
    That sits upon the pillow-hill, 
    And sees before him, dale and plain, 
    The pleasant land of counterpane.

    The "Land of Duvet" just wouldn't work.

  42. Does "rug" mean "blanket" in BrE? When I was a kid I came across the term in Enid Blyton books and always wondered about that...

  43. Bryn Davies

    I've just realised that no reference has yet been made to "counterpane".

    See my message of 09 August, 2012 12:36 above and the link to the preposterous song about a girl hiding under her counterpane from her guy who is dancing on the ceiling. In these less innocent days I guess we picture him leering down on her.

  44. Canadian

    Does "rug" mean "blanket" in BrE?

    We usually mean one of two objects both originally (and probably still) made of woven wool.

    1. a carpet that covers only part of a room or which hangs on the wall. This sort of rug is usually smaller than a carpet and often goes on top of one. And it may be very different from the basic woven wool — for example a bear-skin rug which is what it says on the tin: the skin of a bear stretched flat and laid on the floor.

    2. something similar to a blanket — or even identical — used as a warm covering but not on a bed. Typically it's a tartan plaid and spread over the knees.

  45. Thanks David. #1 is what I would call a rug also. #2 sounds like what I would call an afghan or a throw/throw blanket.

  46. Has anyone encountered a feather bed? They occur in old stories from Europe - Heidi perhaps? did she have one in the Alpen hut? I think they are very thick, stuffed with feathers, and used instead of a mattress, on top of the bedsprings or in a wooden bunk.

    One can buy lightly padded mattress covers that go under the (fitted) sheet and I have seen very thick versions of these that remind me of feather beds.

  47. I think AmE says "Afghan" for what BrE calls a "travelling rug" (dating from the days of unheated carriages or open cars, so you could wrap yourself up in it and stay warm on a journey). In BrE, an Afghan is a large dog or a native of Afghanistan, and I think those large shaggy sheepskin coats worn by hippies in the 1960s were Afghans, too.

    1. An afghan to me was a strange rug crocheted by an industrious aunt. She made ever so many woollen discs in bright colours and then connected them all with more crochet in black wool and a black border. Sometimes it had some backing fabric, others were a bit lacy. People used to exhibit them in country agricultural shows in th handcraft section.

  48. Growing up on Long Island in the 1960's, we used quilts and they were encased in quilt covers. I used to crawl into my quit cover to read by flashlight when I was 7 or 8. Bedspreads were awful chenille things that were strictly decorative and found in hotels and the homes of elderly aunts.

    I think I first heard comforter around 1980 in northern California and didn't hear duvet until the last decade or so.

  49. Mrs Reboots

    what BrE calls a "travelling rug"

    This made me think both Yes and also No. When it was back home in the cupboard it was a travelling rug. When it was being used it was a rug. I can't imagine Enid Blyton wrote travelling rug in those stories that Canadian read.

  50. Rocky Mountain US.
    In our house, we sleep under a dyne because the piece of bedding came to us via 2 years in Norway. Dyne is only the interior part, which needs a cover.

    As I read the comments, it seems to me that the word quilt doesn't mean in AmE what the BrE speakers seem to think. At the least, I'm surprised at the apparent use of patchwork as an integral part of the name. Patchwork is one specific type of quilt, but there are many more types of quilts than patchwork. I probably own at least a dozen handmade quilts, and only one of them is patchwork.

  51. PW

    As I read the comments, it seems to me that the word quilt doesn't mean in AmE what the BrE speakers seem to think. At the least, I'm surprised at the apparent use of patchwork as an integral part of the name.

    I don't think too many people in the UK have the remotest idea what you mean by 'quilt'. Fifty years ago what I had a so-called 'patchwork quilt' on my bed, even fewer people would know. I suspect some women's magazine dreamed up the idea of the covering, printed instructions for people like my mother to knit and sew, and gave it a name loosely based on what little they knew of American life outside Hollywood.

    We'd had quilts in the past, but by the time I was growing up the only sort of quilt most of us knew was an eiderdown. Duvets are a type of quilt (in our old sense). Hence the term still heard occasionally continental quilt. We still have the adjective quilted (= approx 'padded') as in quilted jacket. We even have quilted toilet paper.

  52. I'm from Edinburgh. Before duvets became popular in Britain, the only place you could buy them in Edinburgh was a shop called Norway House, where duvets were sold as downies, and I've always thought that that was the reason this became a popular term in Edinburgh. I don't know about the rest of Scotland. This would seem to gel with Nicholas's comment about Danish. According to Google Translate it's also dyne in Norwegian.

  53. The "y" in "dyne" is pronounced something like the German "u-with-an-umlaut", so, as Autolycus implies, the Australian "doona" is probably derived from the Scandinavian "dyne".

    Kate (Derby, UK)

  54. And here I thought my four-year-old daughter was kind of nuts for wanting to use her duvet (with duvet cover) from IKEA (which I had intended as a comforter/bedspread) and completely eschewing her top sheet for sleep. Turns out she's just continental! Guess reading Topsy and Tim stories does more than introduce her to different vocabulary--it actually makes her use less American things the right way instinctively (despite her mother's ignorance)! ;)

  55. PW - my knowledge of American quilts dates from the late 1970s - early 1980s when there was an upsurge of interest in both American and British styles. I have made two small quilts from American books of patchwork designs, for my children, and also a large 'Barnraising' quilt from a set of instructions in a British magazine. I considered them all quite intriguing, but was not aware that there were any non-patchwork designs in the US that could be referred to as 'quilts'. The American Museum in Bath (England) has a good collection of American quilts, all patchwork as far as I can remember. In the UK we would refer to any padded bedcover as a quilt: an eiderdown is much thicker but only the size of the bed top (probably because the genuine down filling is very expensive), and a duvet or continental quilt belongs to the category of bedclothes rather than a bedcover.

    Two years ago the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London held a marvellous exhibition of 'Quilts 1700 - 2010'. It seemed to me that the more accurate title of 'Bedcovers and hangings' would not have attracted the large numbers who attended the show. British bedcovers from the period were shown - some were lace or embroidered but the majority were patchwork (rather few in the traditional British hexagons: some had amazingly complex applique or intaglio designs as well as patchwork), and not all were quilted. There is a strong English and Welsh tradition of quilted satin bedcovers - thinner than eiderdowns but definitely intended as bedcovers rather than bedclothes. A batch of these 'Durham' quilts was hand-made for Claridge's hotel (London) in 1932.
    The V&A sells a great book covering the exhibition.

  56. US - MIdwest, with German ancestry:

    Afghan is a crocheted or knitted blanket with any of a number of options for color pattern, thickness (lacy to very solid) and warmth.

    Blanket is a default term for the covering over the top sheet that doesn't fall into some other category, including waffle-weave, fleece, flannel, and others (blankies, on the other hand, are comfort items for children which may be smaller portions of blankets from when they were babies).

    Counterpane/Coverlet/Bedspread is a single layer, slightly heavier than a sheet, often candlewick or chenille, to be removed before sleeping (unless your grandmother keeps her house too cold at night!)

    Comforter is an all in one heavy item with a heavier weave fabric than a sheet, filled with a polyester batting and used on top of the top sheet in the winter. You wouldn't put another cover over it, because you can just machine wash it.

    Duvet is a feather comforter that doesn't have the heavy weave fabric on it, needs a cover, and has to be dry cleaned because of the feathers. Also, the filling tends to end up all at the foot of the bed (but they are SOO comfortable in the winter, even in the South!).

    Quilt is a handmade or machine made bed cover where one side is a design of pieced fabric (if there is no particular pattern, this is patchwork, other designes have specific names, but are still made of patches of fabric) and the other side is typically not patterned. The top and bottom cover batting (now polyester, formerly cotton, or clean rags, or layers of ragged sheets, or anything that provides warmth), and then the 3 layers are sewn together with a seam pattern - always decorative. The sewing together of a quilt was a big undertaking and was often part of a large gathering of women called a Quilting Bee, where the quilt was streched and women would sew the part they could reach, and the quilt could be finished faster (much like a barn-raising brought the community together to do in 1 day what an individual could not do by him/her self).

    Too much information? Sorry, I like to think about bedding and covers. It helps me remember how comfortable I used to be when I could still sleep late.

  57. No, the Enid Blyton books did not say travelling rug, just rug. I think this was either the Adventure series or Famous Five, and in the context of going on an expedition/trip or perhaps they were just kept in the car trunk (boot).

  58. Here's an example: "I've found you some rugs," she said. "You can each take one. They are old, but very thick and warm, and as good as two blankets. If Bill hasn't got enough blankers for you it won't matter at all – the rugs will give you plenty of warmth. Don't forget to bring them back, now!"

    (The Valley of Adventure, Chapter 2)

    I really did imagine using a floor rug instead of a blanket, which seemed very odd indeed!

  59. I have inherited two rugs which, when I was a child, we used to spread on the ground to sit on for picnics. Both are heavier than a blanket and have a fringe (of thick lengths of wool) along two opposite edges. I now use them to spread over my sleeping bag when camping in chilly weather.

    Kate (Derby, UK

  60. I (AmE) have read 'bedclothes' in novels and always thought it's a delightfully anthropomorphic term, as if a bed is getting dressed up for an evening out. Love it!

    In Vermont in the 1980s we did not have central heat, only wood stoves located far from my bedroom. I slept under a huge pile of blankets including an electric one (turned off overnight) and a feather bed on top. It was a shapeless bag of goose feathers and air and would sometimes puff up so high that the cat had trouble jumping to the top.

  61. Sorry to say that "quilt" doesn't mean the same thing, but then not define what a quilt is in AmE. Amanda is correct that a quilt has 3 layers (top, batting in the middle to provide warmth, and bottom) and that the bottom is generally a plain piece of fabric. The layers are sewn together not just at the edges, but thoughout the entire quilt using tiny, even stitches that keep the batting in place. That stitching can be either plain (lines or squares) or in a complex pattern. The top layer can be a wide variety of things: another plain piece of fabric, a "pieced" top made of smaller pieces of fabric sewn together in any of a wide variety of patterns, an embroidered piece of fabric, or appliqued with smaller pieces sewn onto a large piece of fabric. A "pieced" top may also be known as patchwork. The Quilting Gallery has some examples of different quilt types, though not all types are included on this page because even this long explanation is very simplified.

  62. Coming late to the discussion...

    As an Aussie, I lived in the US for several years. I remember learning "comforter" but I could never understand why they didn't make them plain and then stick them inside a pretty cover. (I guess my mother instilled in me some sense of frugality regarding care of bedclothes - you always used a top sheet so that your doona cover didn't get all sweaty, and need frequent washing, leading to early demise of said cover.)

    Mrs Redboots' description of making the bed at school reminded me of my childhood, except it was my mother and not my school who insisted on making the bed that way. She was always anti-fitted sheets, as the bottom sheet always got more wear and tear, and expired sooner than the top sheet, so we never had fitted sheets, and rotated our flat ones top-bottom-wash.

  63. That's right. About the Aussie terminology someone said...they ARE called DOONA's by the Danes. First heard the term in Denmark in 1978. She lifted what I thought was a Duvet/Comforter...and said..."Do you know what this is called?...It's called a DOONA."

  64. How about AmE puff? Does it sound liike a better alternative to define a down filled quilt? What do you think?

  65. I've never heard 'puff' to describe a comforter/duvet. Not sure where you're getting your AmE info from!

  66. I got that one from Random House Webster's College Dictionary, Ed. 1991? where it's defined as a quilted bed covering usually filled with down. Another name for it is "puff quilt". Still doesn't ring any bells with you, Lynne?

  67. Nope. And there are zero hits for 'puff quilt' in the Corpus of Contemporary American English. I'd guess it's a regionalism that might've gone out of date, but I'm away from my resources.

  68. A puff quilt is a quilt made by sewing tiny square pillows together. You make lots and lots of tiny pillows (maybe 3 or 4 inches per side) and then stich them together randomly or in a pattern. I have no idea where it comes from, but you can see examples if you do a google image search. I guess some people call it a biscuit quilt, but that makes less sense to me because no part of it looks anything like any biscuit (AmE or BrE) I've ever seen.

    Also, I sometimes hear and say "sheets and bedding," where bedding is just the covers, be they quilts, comforters, bead spreads, or other types of blankets. I'm from the US Mountain West.

  69. This makes sense because in America, 'biscuits' are not cookies, but rather a light, fluffy square of dough baked to a steamy, flaky tenderness. So this 'puff' quilt is justifiably called a 'biscuit' quilt.

  70. PW has it as I (BrE) understand it: a quilt's defining feature is that it is stitched right through covers and padding/filling into channels or pockets to hold the filling in place = ie 'quilted'. David Crosbie's "= approx 'padded'" is not my understanding. Quilted toilet paper isn't stitched but kind of embossed here and there to hold the (generally) three layers together; a Google image search will provide many examples.

  71. I'm from New England (upper east coast US), but I've been going to Yorkshire England to visit family my whole life. I've always noticed that what it called a duvet there, is more of a thicker, less flexible version of what we call a comforter (plain comforter that you put a cover on) here. The duvets are so thick and firm that you can almost just toss it on the bed like a piece of paper and, viola, the bed is made. Whereas here we have to mess around and pull the comforter (duvet) every which way to make the bed. I would love to find one like that here in the U.S. Making the bed is so much easier with the duvets I have used in the UK.

    1. Jennifer, I just spent three weeks traveling in Scotland and fell in love with the duvet you describe- thick and firm. It seems as if they have some sort of batting rather than down. Did you ever find a place to purchase them?

  72. My 2020 comparative experience while shopping for bedding online in the USA is:
    1. The USA use of Duvet Cover is almost as common as it is in the UK;
    2, Oddly, even though Duvet Cover is widespread, the use of Duvet is much less common. Comforter is most common, while Insert is also used. Duvets (however they’re named) are sometimes buried in a Bedding Basics tree, and you have to filter to find them, rather than having their own category as in the UK.
    3. Tog is a universal measure in the UK, but still unknown in the US. Even on web sites that have both a US and UK presence! (The White Company is a good example) In the US there are just descriptors, such as Standard Weight or Light Weight.
    4. Fill Power, which describes a duvet’s quality of down but not its warmth, is almost universal in the US.
    5. If you have a Superking bed in the UK, you might opt for an oversized “Emperor” duvet to prevent your other half hogging the bedclothes at night. Despite the high popularity of similarly sized beds in the US, the term Emperor is never used here. Oversized King duvets (or comforters or inserts, or whatever) do exist, but they seem rare and not having their own special name makes them hard to find.
    6. The overall effect is it is harder to shop for a duvet in the US and know what you’re getting than it is in the UK. I recommend US sellers start calling the thing you put inside a duvet cover a “duvet”, introduce the tog system to indicate warmth, and adopt the term Emperor for an oversized King duvet.


The book!

View by topic



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