In this Wordorigins thread, aldiboronti writes of the word bungalow: “I’d assumed that this was confined to the British side of the pond and the countries of the Commonwealth. I’ve just come across it however in one of those 50s American comics I’m still ploughing through. Is it common in the US?” (He adds: “knowing as I did that the term came from India it should have come as no surprise to find that the root word meant simply ‘belonging to Bengal’, but it did.”) Faldage responded “I think it’s less common now than it used to be but it was common enough USn usage when I was but a tad (mid-20th). I associate it with a small single family house.” As I wrote there, I too remember it from my youth (’50s-’60s) but haven’t heard it in a while, and I thought I’d ask the assembled multitudes about it. If you are American and under, shall we say, middle age, are you familiar with this word, and what does it mean to you? (Others are, of course, welcome to weigh in with bungalow-related thoughts.)


  1. I’m 25, and I am in fact familiar with the term. I also tend to associate it with a small, single-family house. I suspect, however, that this is primarily derived from Eddie Izzard’s use of the word in his “Dress to Kill” DVD. Of course, I recall already knowing what the word meant when I first watched the sketch. Regardless, it’s not exactly a word that is often used by me or my peers.

  2. It’s used in The Great Gatsby, for what that’s worth. The house that Nick rents next to Gatsby’s mansion is a bungalow.

  3. I’m 24, and I have known the word since I was in maybe 4th grade or so. Small, single-floor, one family dwelling. May or may not have an attic or basement, but not typically both.

  4. In the Southern Ontario region, a bungalow is a single story house. It can be of any size. An equivalent term around here is ranch, which I think is slowly replacing bungalow.

  5. 28 years old, from Calgary, Alberta. Standard vocabulary in Calgary — I wouldn’t describe a single-story detached house any other way. In my mind, it doesn’t imply small or large — just single-story and detached.

  6. It’s used a lot by real estate sales folk and neighbors to describe the predominate style of house — Arts & Crafts bungalows — in my neighborhood, which was built up between the wars.

  7. I’m 25, and have heard the word “bungalow” used mostly related to travel. I grew up near the beach, so perhaps that is why I’ve always associated the word with vacation and vacation homes. For me, it brings to mind a small, single-family home with open rooms and lots of windows, usually one- or two-storey.

  8. For me (Ohio valley; Great Lakes) a single story detached home is a ranch. The canonical bungalow is one of those Craftsman-style houses from the 1920s.
    There’s a novelty record by Billy Jones and Ernest Hare from c. 1925 that features the following marvelous exchange:
    Jones: Say, Ernie, would you date a flapper?
    Hare: I would, Billy. But I don’t call ’em flappers — I call ’em “bungalows.”
    Jones: “Bungalows”? Why’s that?
    Hare: Because they’re painted in the front, shingled in the back, and they’ve got no entry!

  9. Early 30s here – very familiar with the word, usually apply it to Craftsman style homes from the 30s and 40s. I learned the word from my mom and her sister, and then refined my understanding of it in art history courses.
    so I doubt I’m exactly the demographic you’re looking for.

  10. 31, and yes, the word is very familiar. I agree with Kat that it often seems to be associated with small beach homes.

  11. 30, and I know the word, and imagine a small single family home. A “ranch” house is similar, but to me it sounds bigger.

  12. My wife always refers to the place where her family spent their summers in her youth as a “bungalow colony”.

  13. I’m 24, and I’m familiar with the term. Where I’ve seen it used is in real estate advertising usually referring to a small, one family home.

  14. I’m 21 and I’ve used the term all my life; me grandparents’ house was called a bungalow. To me it means a small, one-storey house, which is strange because my grandparents’ house actually had a basement.

  15. I’m 18, from the Pacific Northwest, and Kat and Andrew both seem to share my sense of the word.

  16. Erm… in Malaysia it just means a house with its own plot of land (as opposed to terrace, semi-detached, or link houses), regardless of how many stories it has.

  17. rootlesscosmo says

    I remember “bungalow colony” from the late 1940’s. My parents and grandmother and I spent part of that summer in one, not far from Peekskll, New York, where on one scary night (I was 7) cars slowly trickled in, their windshields broken and their occupants bleeding from scalp wounds, after the Peekskill Riot, where mobs attacked people leaving an outdoor Paul Robeson concert. Some of the colony’s male residents formed a defense squad at the entrance road, but no hostile would-be intruders showed up. I think some “colonies,” like that one, were more or less loosely organized around Left organizations or informal groups of people who knew each other from the CPUSA or groups in its orbit.

  18. Hmmm… just thought i should add, Malaysia used to be under British colonial rule, I am 26, and the word is really, really common over here. There’s almost no chance an English-speaking Malaysian wouldn’t know the word.
    Oh, and I live in one. Its 2-storeys and an utter pain to maintain when you’re a bachelor. 🙁

  19. s. weynard miller says

    22, and very familiar with the word. I hear it in reference to West Coast real estate most frequently.

  20. I’m 47, agree with all the above US usage, although I was not familiar with it as a single story home growing up in Michigan. Instead I had it as the phrase Beach Bungalow, sort of a better vacation shack. And strongly associated it with California terminology until perhaps the last 20 years.

  21. Single story, one family detached dwelling, usually shallow pitched roof, thatched with palm fronds in the proper climate. Squarish, not stretched like a ranch. Dream home of a New England teen-ager with five brothers & two sisters crammed into a dilapidated ranch.

  22. rootlesscosmo: I had never heard of the Peekskill Riot. Thanks for mentioning it, an interesting bit of history.

  23. I live in Providence, RI and asked the middle aged women I work, native Rhode Islanders all, with about the word and they were all familiar with it. They said that it is a small family home, either single story or one with a very small upstairs, predominantly in old milltowns and near old mills. They associate bungalows with houses built in the 50s or earlier. One of them grew up in a bungalow and it was referred to as such in her youth. Her parents still live in it.

  24. Graham Asher says

    It has a pejorative sense in the UK, implying a rather mean little dwelling. Expensive single-storey houses are never marketed as bungalows, but as ‘all on one level’, or ‘ranch-style’.

  25. i’m 31 from california and yep, i’ve heard it used to refer to single-story smallish houses, although we primarily used it in school (i can’t remember if it was elementary or junior high) to refer to a detached single-story (temporary?) building that was erected (or hauled in? gah, my memory is going) separate from the main buildings, used as additional classroom space.
    oy that was a long sentence.

  26. I’m 29 and from the Midwest, and bungalow is very familiar to me. I agree with those who like to modify it with “Craftsman” or “Arts & Crafts,” and think of it as a smallish, unattached single-family home. In my adult life I’ve only lived in apartments and never house-shopped, so I doubt that my exposure comes from real estate ads, and I’m also not one to vacation at beaches, so I can’t say how I know the word, though.

  27. 23, east coast American, and I’ve always known it as a small single-family house, as well. I’ve never seen it used with explicit negative or cultural connotations, just as a real estate term.

  28. I’m 25 from California and, like Jonathan, mainly know the term from school — we used it to refer to portable classrooms.

  29. I think most of the bungalows have been torn down and replaced with McMansions. Maybe they’ll make a comeback in the current economic climate.

  30. 40-something, Mid-Atlantic native, confirmed by several years in NE Ohio: “Bungalow” is very familiar and means Craftsman-style 1- or 1-1/2-story house with a porch (with regional and stylistic variations in material). When I lived in Ontario, I was disoriented by the usage bungalow = ranch house, i.e. any old 1-storey house. Unlike other “real estate agent-speak” terms (“Colonial”), this one seems to be used with precision even in real estate ads in the areas of the US with which I’m familiar.
    The strong association of bungalow with Craftsman in some regions makes me wonder whether the association comes from kit-home catalogues of the early 20th century.
    (PS: I tried to use the R-word for “real estate agent” and my comment was rejected for questionable content!)

  31. I’m 67 from the East Coast; I have lived in the Midwest and California as well as Europe and Asia. Bungalow is a common term that I’ve heard everywhere.

  32. The Chicago Bungalow is a fixture in this city. The typical one is in Berwin, where there are row and rows and block after block of the same thing with only slightly different facades. Sometimes it’s also called the “carpenter’s dream”. We rehabbed one once, fortunately not in Berwin and the only one like it on the block. There is even a Historic Chicago Bungalow Association.

  33. Oh, ours was built in 1927 and even had the date stamped on the coal chute.

  34. “Bungalow” from Hindi “bangla” meaning a small, low thatched-roof dwelling in the style of Bengal. Are we surprised that “shampoo” also comes from Hindi “champo” from a verb meaning to knead with the knuckles?

  35. Anders Lotsson says

    I don’t know what the people in India mean by the word bungalow, but in Europe it’s supposed to be a long, one-story house where the door of each room goes directly to the outdoors, usually to a covered porch. I’ve known the word since the 1960’s.

  36. I’m 30 and bungalow is a familiar word for me, calling to mind a small, one-story home. Like others, I also associate it with vacation dwellings, often on a body of water.

  37. I’m in Minnesota / Oregon and I think of a bungalow as being not only one-story, but more long (or deep) than wide. Don’t know where I got that.
    It seems like a sort of tropical house, where heat conservation is less important. I don’t believe that there are a lot of them in Minnesota (I should look, I may be wrong). Houses here, at least older ones, are pretty blocky.

  38. I’m in Minnesota / Oregon and I think of a bungalow as being not only one-story, but more long (or deep) than wide. Don’t know where I got that.
    It seems like a sort of tropical house, where heat conservation is less important. I don’t believe that there are a lot of them in Minnesota (I should look, I may be wrong). Houses here, at least older ones, are pretty blocky.

  39. Interesting. It seems it’s still in common use, and it just hasn’t happened to come up in the conversations I’ve had recently. Thanks, all!

  40. Thetidos says

    I do not fit either of your criteria, being both British and middle aged. However, I wonder if Americans are not familiar with the word from The Beatles’ Bungalow Bill? Then again, it is reported that Charles Manson did not know what a helter skelter was (another Beatles song) despite using it to rationalise his murderous ideas.

  41. Nice reading,
    thx for sharing
    London house extension

  42. Charles Perry says

    In the early 20th century, the characteristic family dwelling in Los Angeles was known as the California bungalow: a smallish one-story building typically with high ceilings, a large porch or veranda in the front and no basement (houses around here rarely have anything under the floor but a crawl space). In the late Forties, it was replaced by the more sprawling “ranch house” with a backyard patio, perhaps a swimming pool.
    I remember “bungalow” also being applied to plain boxy classrooms, not necessarily portable ones.

  43. Funnily enough, or not, my workplace is in the vicinity of the pretty Dutch market town of Bungaloo, which would almost certainly be the real origin of the English word if that was in fact its real name. (Don’t tell anyone, but the natives call it Dwingeloo, possbly after the Bengalese term for an overpriced pancake eatery.)
    An English bungaloo, in any case, is only ever in my considerable experience (I even lived in one for a while) a single-storey house. It hadn’t occurred to me that they were necessarily detached, but I can’t think of any counterexamples.

  44. Oh, and if I were writing a spambot to target LanguageHat The Website, I would probably be able to get more or less the results that are currently being got with a little Markov chaining, not that I ever would of course.

  45. I understood “bungalow” to have the same sense that you describe. I’m 31. It might actually be considered a sort of technical term in the world of architecture: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Bungalow

  46. I’m 29 and the word conjures up a small house or cabin, but nothing more specific. Also, it’s a word that sounds old or quaint to me. I wouldn’t use it in an unmarked situation.

  47. Erin, your wiki link says, near the bottom: The California Bungalow style was particularly popular in Australia from around 1914 to 1940. This period coincided with the rise of the Hollywood film industry …
    There’s no citation, which isn’t surprising, because the whole paragraph — it says bungalows came to Australia from California, ‘with the increased importation of U.S. architectural magazines into Australia, a society which previously had been heavily influenced by British domestic styles. — has been invented by the author, who is pretty clearly an idiot (as well as never having been to Australia nor an architecture school).
    The fairly consistently low quality of the Wiki pieces on architecture is absolutely shocking when you compare them to other subjects — philosophy, for instance. I wouldn’t touch one with a ten-foot pole.

  48. The California bungalows that Charles Perry describes are very common in Hawaii, where many of the poshest old neighborhoods built up during the 1920s and 1930s are dotted with half-timbered Tudor-revival bungalows, some rather too storied to be bungalows, so they are called cottages instead. Many are on the national or state register of historic places.

  49. michael farris says

    My mental image of a bungalow is a wooden house (in a tropicalish place) probably raised off the ground with a covered porch in front (and maybe all around).
    I’m familiar with the usage as a generic single storey single family residence but that doesn’t change my basic mental image, which is pretty close to this:

  50. Since in England the term is used exclusively for a one-storey house, my Grandfather used to like to tell me (maybe a little too often) that the name comes from the fact that the builder was getting lazy and just decided to bung a low roof on the house he was working on…

  51. I am an american, and yes, I do remember the word. For us, as in my circular group of people growing up, we used the word “bungalow” to describe very small like hut, or not usually more than one room abode, that fit the description of like a hut, or south pacific retreat from the weather. A cabana of sorts.

  52. Graham Asher: “It has a pejorative sense in the UK, implying a rather mean little dwelling. Expensive single-storey houses are never marketed as bungalows, but as ‘all on one level’, or ‘ranch-style’.”
    I totally disagree: many British people are happy to say they live in a bungalow – it is neither pejorative, nor indicative of a ‘rather mean little dwelling’. Millionaire footballers may choose to call their homes ‘ranch-style’ if they are single-storey, but they are hardly typical householders, and their houses are scarcely typical either. (As it happens I don’t live in a bungalow, so this isn’t special pleading!)

  53. The fairly consistently low quality of the Wiki pieces on architecture
    I wonder where might be an architect willing to tackle the subject.

  54. The fairly consistently low quality of the Wiki pieces on architecture
    To attain greater consistency it might be easier to dumb down the good pieces than to improve the bad ones.

  55. The fairly consistently low quality of the Wiki pieces on architecture
    To attain greater consistency it might be easier to dumb down the good pieces than to improve the bad ones.

  56. Another great reminder of why I love this place! Although I knew that “bungalow” came from Hindi, I had never thought to consider where the Hindi word came from. In all the songs I listen to, बंग्ला “bangla” is often used to mean a big or grand house, not a thatched cottage. How I missed that it’s बंग्ला “Bengali” I have no idea.

  57. Brun(al)o van Wayenburg says

    Here’s my bungalow-related thought: it’s a common word in Dutch, too, meaning a small, one story house, often in holiday parks. Probably some of them close to Dwingeloo.

  58. michael farris says

    Just to add/clarify my original point. My ideal (in the fulfilling semantic criteria sense of the word) bungalow is bigger than the picture I linked to and probably painted white and features desultory and decadent european(-derived) people hanging out on the covered porch (preferably in the rainy season and/or those maddening native drums) as they drink, sneer and commit adultery with at each other. There’s probably an old hollywood movie or two to blame for that.

  59. “It has a pejorative sense in the UK, implying a rather mean little dwelling. Expensive single-storey houses are never marketed as bungalows, but as ‘all on one level’, or ‘ranch-style’.” … I totally disagree
    I don’t entirely disagree. It’s not exactly pejorative, but it definitely fits into a precise stereotype: a suburban / seaside home favoured by very conventional retired people (usually working-class with middle-class pretensions) who’ve moved to a single-storey house because they can’t manage stairs (or expect to lose the ability to manage them some time soon).

  60. kellynight says

    I also live near the ohio valley,and agree that bungalow is a ranch style. Of course you hardly hear the term used in our area anymore, you would reference it to a travel destination/housing nowadays. I have heard that enchange between Jones and Hare before, can you be more specific where it is from!? Maybe it was a joke that I am thinking of!

  61. Yes, a modest one-story house.
    What’s interesting to me about this comment thread is that “ranch” means to me one and only one kind of house — two story (or one story with a daylight basement, depending on how you classify such things). The front door opens onto the landing of the stairway — half a flight up to the upstairs, half a flight down to the downstairs. I never knew “ranch” referred to anything else.
    Pacific Northwesterner, in his fifties.

  62. The one dale describes I would call a “split level”. They were popular in the 70’s. To me a “ranch” is on one level, no stairs.
    Kipling wrote a bungalow into one of his “Tales from the Hills” stories that was a large two room cottage, IIRC with a thatched roof and a sheet stretched under the rafters as a sort of ceiling where snakes could hide.

  63. Back in Cape Breton, a bungalow is a small summer home, usually a little one-floor box of a place, maybe by a lake.
    When I came to Malaysia I found references to large houses as bungalows very confusing. As a previous commenter said, over here a bungalow is any house that’s not attached to another house (most houses over here are terrace houses, semi-detached, etc.).

  64. I’m 25, American Midwest. I don’t think bungalow’s really standard real estate language around here (although I could be wrong) but it’s commonly enough used to describe a cabin by a lake rented for vacation.

  65. When I was a lad we used to joke that a one-storey house was called a bungalow because you bung a low roof on it. There are probably people who still believe it. BTW, I see most of you write one-story, rather than one-storey. Is that a Westpondian thing? I’d never noticed before.

  66. In Ireland, farmers building new houses in the post-1973 prosperity of the EEC>EU often used readymade plans from a book called “Bungalow Bliss”, peppering the rural landscape with one-off housing which the Irish Times dubbed “Bungalow Blitz”. These dwellings are pejoratively called “haciendas” and “Southfork ranches”. (I think the “Dallas” house was 2 or 3 storeys, but still.) So, here, “ranch” is pejorative for “bungalow”, not vice versa.

  67. Could someone post a link to a photo of a Craftsman or Arts and Craft bungalow ? I’ve not heard the terms and am interested to see how they differ from a bog-standard UK bungalow.
    I do see bungalow as somewhat prejorative in the UK – not from a class outlook (though there is some of that) as from an aesthetic viewpoint – they are seen as desperately boring design. For those for whom it might mean something, the outer reaches of Worthing and indeed much of of the South Coast somes to mind.
    This sort of thing: http://www.holidaylettings.co.uk/rentals/worthing/14042

  68. miltboyd says

    I’m outside your target responders (71, male, lived in New England, New York, and UK), but bungalow has always been a common term in New England for a small, single floor house, sitting on its own small lot. Common in vacation communities (seaside, mountains, etc), rare in cities, but found throughout New England. I find the concept blurs with that of a cottage (except for the cottages in Newport RI).

  69. I am an American, 37, and as Thetidos suggested earlier, I am familiar with the word from the Beatles song “Bungalow Bill”.
    As a child in the late 1970s I lived in the southern states (Virginia, North Carolina), and I recall the word being used once or twice from my grandmother and her sisters, who were children in a small hill town in Virginia in the 1920s.
    They were somewhat isolated in that community, and may have held onto older words longer. A particular construct they used was to sort of obfuscate swearing when upset with phrases like “bless my britches” and “I swan” (instead of “I swear”).

  70. Paul, there are good pictures of what I’m thinking about here
    and here – the latter with some good historical context for their development.

  71. dearieme says

    The one I knew best in 50s Scotland was a 1930s single-storey detached house with an attic but no basement. It had a verandah on the south side. I don’t know about “mean”: it had a decent garden with a couple of sheds and a large greenhouse, a stable (with hay-loft) and a couple of paddocks. But I tend to be oblivious to the intricacies of English class consciousness.

  72. Victor Sonkin says

    It’s common in Russian (as бунгало), probably through the mediation of English (or French, though it seems less likely). Formerly, in novels set in the tropics; these days, mostly in booklets of travel agencies advertising holidays in the Maldives and such.

  73. Very common term in the UK and often the preferred residence for the elderly – for obvious reasons. Single storey homes are common worldwide – it is just the term that is used to describe them.

  74. CR: Many thanks. Interesting variants, show some imagination. On the first site, the Art Moderne house seems to be so far from any common definition of bungalow that the only common point is single storey.

  75. I’ve written something about an English seaside bungalow, it’s at my url.

  76. Paul, I agree that many of the houses linked in the list below the picture on the first site I linked to aren’t anything I’d recognize as a bungalow. That green one pictured on the first page is pretty close to the archetypal image in my mind, though, with allowances for regional variation in materials.

  77. The Farnsworth House is definitely not a bungalow, Stan.

  78. I think it’s fair to say a bungalow always has either a gable roof or a hipped roof, or both. There are no flat-roofed bungalows.

  79. (Since Stan’s comment has unaccountably vanished, I’ll just say that Stan had speculated that ALL one-storey houses were bungalows.)

  80. I wonder what the record is for writing the greatest number of successive comments at LH?

  81. It’s common in Russian (as бунгало), probably through the mediation of English (or French, though it seems less likely). Formerly, in novels set in the tropics; these days, mostly in booklets of travel agencies advertising holidays in the Maldives and such.
    Agree entirely with Victor. For some reason, travel agents like to stress the middle syllable, although it’s pretty obvious to me that they can’t possibly be right. It makes it sound like a verb in past tense. Also, my dictionary gives бенгало as an alternative spelling, but I’ve never heard it pronounced that way.

  82. Daniel Roberts says

    Southern New Englander, 45. To me, a bungalow is more about proportions. A fairly squat house, that would fit on a small plot of land. Might be one floor, might have an smallish second floor – more like a finished attic, with dormers. Never a full second floor. May or may not have a basement. Squarish overall footprint, maybe even a rectangle, but never with an ell.
    Side note: what Dale the Pacific Northwesterner calls a “ranch”, is called a “raised ranch” in my parts, which to my feeling is not a ranch at all. To me, a ranch is long and low, usually with an ell or two. Definitely one floor, basement optional.
    And to those who complain about Wikipedia’s architecture entries, get off your butts and edit the pages, make some improvements, add your knowledge. That is how it works.

  83. Ella Westbury says

    I’m 24, from Victoria Australia.
    A bungalow for me (and I think in general in Southern Australia, but who can say) is a building separate to the main house on the rear of a property. Like a granny flat type thing i guess.
    A different use, is also the ‘Californian bungalow’. Which is pretty much what the US readers describe, a smaller one family home, but in that distinct architectural style, which is very common in Australia.

  84. I know “Bungalow Bill” the Beatles song, but it doesn’t mention housing, so it wouldn’t help much in associating “bungalow” with any sort of architecture.
    I agree, too, that dale’s description would be called a “split level” where I’m from. A ranch would be single storey above ground, though almost always with a basement (because of the tornadoes). This was my grandparents’ home’s style–on an *actual* ranch, though the style of house is common enough in town, too.

  85. I distinctly remember the first split-level home I visited in the U.S., while we were on extended furlough (my father actually resigned from the mission for a couple years) in Winchester, Va., after spending the last half of the 1950s in Kyoto, Japan, where we had a large, American-style ranch house (newly built for our family) with no basement, but with a half-attic, in which my next elder brother and I slept and played. The whole lot now houses a dozen or so two-story Japanese row houses, I believe.
    BTW, Curtis, my (just barely) West Virginia-born, education-mad mother also used to say “I swan!” and “What in the Sam Hill?” in her pseudo-swearing style.

  86. I’m in your target group, but am an outlier – I’ve been in real estate my whole life, in the middle and upper midwest. Here are our definitions:
    Bungalow: 1, 2, or maybe a very small 3 bdrm (that third room may have it’s best use as a nursery or office) 1 bath, 1 story home, probably with a basement (we rarely build slabs in tornado country), possibly with bedroom 2 on the second floor under the eves. Probably built 1910-1960. It’s a squarish structure, maximizing space use. Floor plans include (from front to back): Living room, dining room, kitchen one one side, bedroom, bathroom, bedroom along the other side. Living room, dining room, stairs, to the side bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, second/third bedroom upstairs. Living room, stair, bedroom, to the side bedroom, bathroom, kitchen. It implies a small home, good for young couples, very young families, empty nesters, etc.
    Ranch: usually built post-1950, a long/wide one story home needing a wider lot. “atrium ranch” is a specific subset describing a ranch with vaulted or extremely tall ceilings which enables huge windows (15ft+ high) at the back of the house. The corresponding term for ranch in the northern midwest is Rambler, and it describes the feeling so well.
    What Dale describes, we’d call a split level.
    Modern ranch-style homes are a product of post-war suburbia where we had all the room we please. Bungalows are made to fit into small lots often in more urbanized areas
    I grew up in a ranch, and bought a 2 bdrm bungalow as my first house.

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