What is the Difference Between a Rug and a Carpet?

It's a situation that has almost become an urban cliche. Visitors would come to somebody's home, and the person would boast about the brand new rug they bought. Of course, at least one person at the party would declare that the item their host has acquired is, in fact, not a rug but a carpet. At least two other guests would agree one way or the other and discuss the matter further. The rest would probably say something along the lines of 'eh, carpet, rug; it's all the same to me.'

Is it the same, though? For so many decades, thousands of people would argue about this particular topic. And while the question of rugs and carpets persists, the answer isn't that simple. That's why we're here to help. In this article, we will compare and contrast carpets and rugs to see if they are all that different or all that similar, for that matter. 

Defining the Terms

Before we move onto discussing rugs and carpets, we first need to define our terms. So, let's do some armchair etymology and figure out how the terms' carpet' and 'rug' came into the English language.

Let's start things off with 'carpet.' The first time this word appeared in the English language was in the 13th century. In so-called Middle English, 'carpet' denoted a thick fabric that people would use to cover their beds or tables. It originated from the French term 'carpite', or rather the Medieval Latin/Italian' carpita,' meaning 'woolen counterpane.' In contrast, these terms come from the Old Latin verb' carpere.' 'Carpere' translates to: 'to pluck, to pull to pieces'. Thus, all of the medieval terms roughly described the same item — a coarse, decorated cloth that people used to cover floors or items.

The origin of the term 'rug' is a bit hazy. Most scholars agree that it probably derives from the Old Norse term 'rǫgg,' meaning 'shaggy' or 'tuft.' 'Rǫgg' probably stems from the Proto-Germanic word '*rawwō,' meaning 'long wool.' All of these terms relate to a piece of shaggy, unkempt cloth, and the words' rag' and 'rough' probably share the same roots. Interestingly, the term 'rug' wasn't used with the meaning' small carpet' until the 19th century. 

Why the Confusion?

OK, so now we know the origin of the words. We can assume that both refer to different types of items made out of fabric. And from what we can gather, 'rug' did not even mean 'covering item' until recently. So, why do people confuse these two terms? Is it just that both seem to represent an object whose purpose is to cover other objects?

Well, no, there's a little more to it all than just that. For instance, if we were to show one of them to a bystander and ask them what it was, they would say either 'it's a rug' or 'it's a carpet'. But when asked WHY they think it's a rug or a carpet, they will explain that it pretty much covers both. 

What do we mean by that? Well, the item we are showing the bystander:

  • Is made of different materials woven together
  • Contains ornamental geometric shapes
  • Looks like something that goes on the floor
  • Is relatively coarse and thick, or one of the two
  • Can be described as Persian, Moroccan, or Turkish, especially if it's expensive

To put it simply, rugs and carpets are incredibly similar. As a result, many languages around the world don't use separate terms for these two items. Instead, they would often refer to said items as 'big carpet' and 'small carpet.' And why would they not? After all, if they are made using the same process, if they can both be either thick or thin, why give them separate names? So let's delve a little deeper into that. 

Movability of Rugs and Carpets

Generally speaking, experts in tapestries will bring up two crucial points when differentiating between carpets and rugs. The first of those points relate to movability. Simply put, carpets are (usually) not movable, while rugs are.

On the face of it, that makes perfect sense. When talking about carpets, modern people tend to think about wall-to-wall carpeting, the kind that covers the entire floor down to the very last inch. Such flooring material will always require experts to install it and, if needed, experts in removing it. With rugs, we have no such issues. We buy one and place it on the floor, the wall, the furniture, etc. 

Of course, things are not that simple. Even today, some carpets don't cover all of the floors, and that we can remove them somewhat easily. In other words, wall-to-wall carpets are just a subgroup of regular carpets. Luckily, there are no wall-to-wall rugs to further the complication.

Size

The second important point that a tapestry expert might bring up when discussing this topic is the item's size. Generally, carpets are much larger than rugs since they are meant to cover as much of the floor as possible. Rugs tend to vary in size, with the biggest ones being 4 feet by 6 feet. All carpets, be they area or wall-to-wall items, are far larger than that. 

This division makes the most sense and is effectively the best way to differentiate a rug from a carpet. In other words, if we were to see a floor covering, we can discern what it is judging by its size alone. Typically, people won't use rugs just to cover floors. If it's an incredibly expensive rug, they will hang it on the wall like a painting. That is not entirely possible with a carpet. Hanging a thick monster as large as our floor requires a lot of work and a lot of space. So, unless we live in a huge mansion or a castle, there's no point in hanging a carpet as a work of art.

Which One Should I Pick?

There are really only four answers to the question of which item we should choose:

  • Rugs
  • Carpets
  • Neither
  • Both

On their own, both carpets and rugs will be useful. Their intended purpose is to provide comfort and style to our home, and that's precisely what they'll do. Naturally, we can always opt to have nothing but bare hardwood floors, and with some homes, that type of minimalism does work. However, we can also choose to own both rugs and carpets, as they can breathe new life into a drab room. 

Rugs vs. Carpets: Final Thoughts

No, rugs and carpets are not the same, but telling them apart can be incredibly difficult. Nevertheless, both are essential items in interior design and decoration. Whether we opt to buy one or the other, it won't matter. Both will revitalize our living space and, as the Dude from The Big Lebowski so eloquently put it, 'really tie the room together.'

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