Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

On The Carpet

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 3, 2010

Whenever you hear that someone has been called up on the carpet, you know there’s trouble brewing for that person.

This term started in the early 1700s and referred to the cloth — known as a carpet — covering a conference table.  It came to mean that something was “under consideration or discussion.”

In 19th-century America, however, carpet meant “floor covering.”  In the day, only the boss had carpet in his office while all other offices sported bare floors.  And the only time an employee would be summoned to the boss’s office rather than to his superior’s office was when a reprimand was in order.

The first recorded use of the term “on the carpet” that referenced being reprimanded by an employer was in 1902.

One of the most famous recorded uses of the term “on the carpet” was in December 1929, Secretary of the Navy Charles Francis Adam delivered a blistering reprimand to Smedley Darlington Butler, commander the naval base at Quantico in Virginia, declaring that he was doing so at the direct personal order of the President of the United States.

This is the first time in my service of thirty-two years,” Butler is alleged to have said to Adams, “that I’ve ever been hauled on the carpet and treated like an unruly schoolboy. I haven’t always approved of the actions of the administration, but I’ve always faithfully carried out my instructions. If I’m not behaving well it is because I’m not accustomed to reprimands, and you can’t expect me to turn my cheek meekly for official slaps!”

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