At least in American households, the room where group activities are most likely to take place and where the family hangs out. An area that doesn't "belong" to any particular people as bedrooms do, or any one purpose like a kitchen or dining room. Usually near the front entrance of the home/apartment.

The living room is the successor to the 19th century parlor, where originally the family entertained fairly close friends, and sitting room, a more informal place where the family spent time. Parlors were the major showplaces of houses and gradually became formal places used for special occasions rather than everyday visits.

"Reader's Digest suggested that we rename our parlors, which were used to display the dead before burial, to give it a new purpose -- for the living." (www.scripting.com, 23 Aug 2001) I don't know if it was just Reader's Digest that sparked the change, as it seems the parlor replaced the drawing room, and in some places the den, family room, or rumpus room has replaced the mere living room in the house that has space for multiple places where gathering could happen. When it can happen, people seem to like having a "nice" room for special occasions (sometimes in the modern U.S. this is the dining room) and an informal place for every day.

Sources:
http://www.scripting.com http://abcnews.go.com/onair/Insite/insite990312_downs.html http://www.ukans.edu/~medieval/kansas-l/1998/msg00169.html http://barbjscott.freeservers.com/Scott/ASJLetters.htm

This term has a very different meaning among the Southern black folk that I grew up with. The living room was rather ironically named, because very little of life actually occurred there. The living room was an area which contained the nicest furniture, and the nicest decorations and flooring. It was also the place children were forbidden to enter. Many families kept plastic on the furniture in the living room, and reserved the room for basically two classes of people: preachers and white folk. Back in the day, white guests were rare, and blacks at the time frequently went to a lot of trouble to show them that they were cultured and prosperous. This room is something of an anachronism among modern blacks. You aren't likely to see it in the home of anyone under 50 years old due to the much more casual lifestyles we enjoy today.

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