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Basements and cellars: Arriving at some consensus

Last month, I asked you if the room at the bottom of your house was a basement or a cellar.

Basement is definitely leading in the unofficial poll, but most commenters seemed to agree with the differentiation proposed by reader Jo, who posits that a more “finished” space is a basement, and a more unfinished one is a “cellar.”

Melanie writes, “Unfortunately, I don’t have a cellar/basement in my house here in Tidewater, Virginia. Water table is way too low. But we always called that part of my grandparents’ house, up there in Manchester, the cellar, so that’s what I call them to this day. It had a cement floor but was otherwise unfinished. Grandma had shelves full of home canned stuff down there, and clothesline stretching across the ceiling beams to hang laundry on rainy days, and I remember an old-fashioned washing machine in the corner that looked like it was from the 1940’s. There was an extra little room down there, underneath the front porch, which had a dirt floor and was where I think my grandpa kept root vegetables. I’m not sure, though, because I would never go in there; it always creeped me out a little bit!”

One of my sister Louise’s best friends from high school, Michele, writes, “I was raised in Dover Twp. that a cellar has a dirt floor and a basement has a cement or solid floor. A dirt cellar is where my grandmother’s parents cooled milk when she was a child in Warrington Twp. (prior to ice boxes / refrigerators being invented)”

Another sister Carol’s best friend Karrie was in agreement. She wrote on Facebook, “We have a basement… but growing up our cellars – some of them at least – were dirt floors with big coal bins and coal stoves… OMG, I am freaking OLD.” (I disagree with the last part!)

Bill S. says he’s also with Jo’s original opinion. “If it’s unfinished and has a dirt floor, it’s a cellar. If it’s finished and there are, say, a family room separate from the furnace, washer, and dryer, it’s a basement, or in our case, a rancher all on one floor, it’s downstairs. The word, cellar, incidentally comes from the German keller, which also means tavern or wine-cellar.”

And Mark weighed in from Austria with a similar thought: “Hit this one pretty much on the head, cellar to me is unfinished and basement is somewhat finished subterranian room. Here if you have such a room it is a Keller, no matter if it’s finished or not, but a Keller can also be aboveground and sometimes refers to a shed-like structure used for, as Bill stated, storing wine, canned goods or even having a tavern. Here’s a link for you to a place near our house called Kellergasse (Celler Lane). Kind of looks like Hobbitton form Lord of the Rings but is quite interesting.”

Mark notes that the site is in German, but if you use the Google Chrome browser, you can easily get it translated.

Pat makes, well, a different distinction. His take? “Basement is where you keep people. Cellar is where you keep items.” He swears he meant that in a “guest room” sense. Suuure…

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