Sunday, November 19, 2023

How Old is the Term Green-Room?

I have always seen it used to refer to the room just off stage where guests wait to be called out for a talk show.  I am currently reading a Jules Verne novel The Steam House where he uses the term in the modern sense.  This is an 1860s.. I am unsure how to characterize it.  The only sci-fi element is that the protagonist and hopelessly imperialist British friends are traveling around India in a road locomotive train.  

A steam engine made up to look like a steel elephant pulling half dozen cars in an adventure that I suspect is going to end in a confrontation with a promoter of the Sepoy Rebellion.

Verne is mostly remembered for his sci-fi but he also wrote more conventional fiction sometimes with a political twist.


  1. My Compact OED has a 1701 reference: Cibber "Love Makes Man": "and the Green-Room and all the girls and women-actresses there"; and 1736 Fielding "Pasquin": "most of the players are drinking tea in the green-room"

  2. Given that Verne wrote in French, and presuming you're reading in English, I wonder when the translation was done. Perhaps there is a 19th century French expression that is best translated into 21st century English as "green room". If so, it would be fascinating to discover the older original French phrase and begin dropping it into conversations when one is booked onto TV talk shows...

  3. Have you read Verne's 1879 novel The Begum's Fortune? Science fiction, but with a very strong political subtext.

    The eponymous fortune is divided between two distant relations of the begum: a French scholar and a German. Each of them uses his share to build an "ideal city" - in southern Oregon, where Verne imagined they could acquire extraterritorial status.

    The Frenchman's city is healthy and beautiful. The German's is a grim military-industrial dystopia, where he builds superweapons for the destruction of the rival city. The German is practically a proto-Nazi in his attitudes (though anti-semitism is not mentioned).

    Granted that this was written when Frenchmen were very angry toward Germany, it's still an astonishing prefigurement.