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The Etymology of the Word 'Conservatory'


At Conservatories Etc, we’re conservatory experts. But what does the word ‘conservatory’ really mean – and what’s the hidden story behind it? We’re taking a look at the etymology of the word ‘conservatory’ to find out.

Latin Origins

The word ‘conservatory’ was first used in English in the 16th century to denote anything relating to preservation – think of the verb ‘to conserve’. The root of the word can be found in the late Latin verb conservare (to preserve) which itself was a composite formed out of the parts con (together) and servare (to keep). 

Etymology of the Word Conservatory

A Semantic Shift

When ‘conservatory’ was first used in the English language, it had a broader meaning than the one we give it today. A conservatory was anything that preserved something – it could mean a room of glass as a conservatory of plants in the winter, or it could mean salt as a conservatory of meat and fish. At some point, this broader implication fell out of use and ‘conservatory’ came to mean only the glass house we know today, a type of semantic shift known as semantic narrowing.

Other Meanings

In the 19th Century, ‘conservatory’ took on the extra meaning of a performing arts school. This meaning is only used in the USA, and it comes from the Italian conservatorio, meaning a home for foundlings. Interestingly, it also comes from the Latin conservare, but the meaning developed differently over time in North America.

To find out about getting a conservatory yourself, call us at 01953 600505, email us at or drop in to see us at one of our showrooms in Wymondham or Diss. Don’t worry – you won’t need a dictionary!