Tuesday, July 09, 2013

"First floor"

I've always been pretty sure that, like in Denmark, "the first floor" in some English-speaking areas means the floor *above* the ground floor.
Wikipedia shoots me down, it says it's the ground floor.
But the dictionary justifies the wonderful confusion:

first floor
the ground floor of a building.
the floor above the ground floor of a building.

Does somebody have any experience or rules as to where or when to use which?

Ken pointed to a wiki entry:
Floor numbering is the numbering scheme used for a building's floors. There are two major schemes in use across the world. In one system, used in the majority of Europe, the ground floor is the floor on the ground and often has no number or is assigned the number zero. Therefore the next floor up is assigned the number 1 and is the first floor. The other system, used primarily in the United States, counts the bottom floor as number 1 or first floor. The next floor up then becomes the second floor and so on.

Small wonder we get confused. Since there are no numbers in this apartment building, I think I'll continue to give directions with "one floor up", instead of "first floor".


Pat McGee said...

My only experience: USA: first is ground. UK: first is floor above ground.

Alex Greene said...

USA - first floor means ground level.

UK - we use UNIX notation. The floor at ground level is the zeroth floor, but we call it "ground floor." First floor, in the UK, means the level above ground; second floor, two levels above ground, and so on.

The theme tune to the British sitcom "Are You Being Served?" showcases our linguistic quirk:-

Are you being served? (1972–85)

Ground floor: Perfumery,
Stationery and leather goods,
Wigs and haberdashery,
Kitchenware and food ...
Going up!

First floor: Telephones,
Gents’ ready-made suits,
Shirts, socks, ties, hats,
Underwear and shoes ...
Going up!

Second floor: Carpets,
Travel goods and bedding,
Material, soft furnishings,
Restaurant and teas ...
Going down!

Roger B. said...

In England the first floor is the one above ground level, upstairs in a two story house.

I've always understood it to be from the days where the servant's working areas were on a semi underground level, and the (rich) owners lived on the floors above, perhaps only a few steps up from the path or drive.

So the owners lived on the first floor and above, and the servants were on the ground floor. I didn't know that Denmark followed the same convention as England.

On a similar subject, you might have noticed that 'hall' in England means either a very large room, or the small area just inside the front door of a house.

This comes from the days when you entered a house and went pretty much straight into a large hall. Again, this was a house belonging to the better off. Over the centuries house design changed and houses became divided up into separate rooms. the hall, which was once the main living area, was now just the bit inside the front door.

craniac said...

Take a look at the Wikipedia entry for storey.

Tommy said...

Of course, if you say the 1st floor is the ground floor... Is the ceiling or the floor of that level, even with the ground?

When I used to work for a BIG computer company, they didn't use the word basement. That became the "lower level"

Go figure

Ken said...

Wikipedia does explain it http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_floor#Numbering

Anonymous said...

I worked for IBM in their first location, Endicott, NY. My first day was input overload, meeting people, etc. I was late getting there my second day. I rushed in the building and up the stairs two stories to the third floor where my office was. But the area did not look anything like I remembered. Turned out T. J. Watson did not want anyone to work in the "basement", so the lowest floor was the "first" floor. The ground level floor was numbered "2".

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Hah, cool.

There's an usual dilemma in cities like Edinburg, where it's so mountenous that there's no "level" to base things on. I went into a big warehouse on ground level, and in the other end I walked out of it, also on ground level, but two floors lower!