STOOPOLOGY

STOOP, Etymology


Originally brought to the Hudson Valley of New York by settlers from the Netherlands, this word is among the Dutch vocabulary that has survived there from colonial times until the present. Stoop, “a small porch”, comes from Dutch stoep (meaning: step, pronounced the same). The word is now in general use in the Northeastern United States and is spreading. 


Not a stoop. This would qualify as a portico

Not a stoop. This would qualify as a portico. Only one step and it’s recessed

Stoops are important. They offer opportunities for creative play, such as “stoop ball” which is a kind of handball, but you need a stoop. With steps. We used to use them as a kind of grandstand where guests could sit while we gave performances. We thought we were almost ready for Broadway. Not all reviewers agreed.

A stoop is a front porch for urbanites. You sit on the stoop to watch the street, meet and greet your neighbors, get some fresh (?) air. Catch up on the local news. Stoop sitting was an important thing when I was growing up and I’m betting it still is, if you live in a neighborhood in the city that’s not too snooty.

Rich people don’t sit on the stoop. More’s the pity. They’d understand the world a lot better if they did.

As the word “stoop” spreads, we will all be able to recognize one when we see it. It’s one of the first architectural features I look for when I’m trying to figure when a structure was built. In cities, most buildings originally had a stoop. When you see a door that is at or below street level, it usually means the original stoop has been buried by erosion, time, remodeling, sidewalk and street repairs, and so on.

It's a stoop, but it leads to a porch

It’s a stoop, but it leads to a porch

Urban streets tend to rise over the years. In older cities, sometimes the level of the street will actually be slightly higher than the door, requiring a dry well and/or drains to keep from flooding.

Stoops on Beacon Hill, Boston

Stoops on Beacon Hill, Boston

A stoop from the 1700s is still a stoop ... even though it's in Upton, Massachusetts rather than New York

A stoop from the 1700s is still a stoop … even though it’s in Upton, Massachusetts rather than New York

A perfect suburban stoop

A perfect suburban stoop

A stoop leading to the tiny post office in Manchaug

A stoop leading to the tiny post office in Manchaug

I can attest to the spread of the word stoop meaning the steps and landing between the sidewalk (or front walk) and the door. Because when i first came to Boston, only former New Yorkers (which comprise about 50% of everyone in Massachusetts) knew the word, but now everyone does. Probably because of that invasive pest species, refugees from New York.

To qualify as a stoop, it has to lead to the front or another main door. It doesn’t have to have a landing to be a stoop. The steps alone are enough.

The stoop should have from two to six steps. More than six steps is a whole flight of steps and a single step can’t be a stoop. If there’s more than a landing at the top, it also isn’t a stoop. If it’s bigger than a landing, the area is a porch, a veranda, a balcony … maybe even a deck. A proper stoop is just big enough to put down your bag of groceries while you dig around in your bag to find your keys.

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There were probably stoops on these doorways 100 years ago, but the city rose. You can also see how many times the building has been remodeled, brickwork changed, and so on. Buildings hold a lot of history

I would call this a stoop, but some would not because it leads to a side door, not the front

I would call this a stoop, but some would not because it leads to a side door, not the front

You now hold a graduate degree in stoopology. Congratulations!

29 thoughts on “STOOPOLOGY

  1. My grandparents lived in Brooklyn in a walkup apartment. There was no stoop so my grandmother would sit at her front window all day long. One flight up. And talk to her neighbors as they walked by.

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    • I had a cat who did that. Seriously. We lived on Beacon Hill and Big Guy used to sit on the window sill of our first floor apartment. I’d hear conversations going on. All the passing people were chatting with our cat. He meowed right back, too. Very sociable fellow, was Big Guy.

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      • I just mentioned the iconic “Big Guy” in another post about cats. I think he had more fans than I did. On Beacon Hill, He sat in the street window next to the Rhett Butler music box and greeted his fans every day. They actually lined up to chat with him. Remember when we did a TV piece about a local blackout and “Big Guy” hogged the camera? He got more viewer responses than I did. Then, there was the historic meeting of Big Guy with Boston’s Arch Bishop. Big Guy was a legend!!

        As for stoops, I remember them well from our homes in NYC. A pink spaulding and a stoop. Game on!!

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  3. Our attached old houses in Bethnal Green , East End of London, all had a step. It was the way they were built. No matter if they had no bathroom and a toilet hut in the garden, you still had a step. The people in our area were not rich, and had no luxuries, but a main show piece was the step. The women would go on their knees, my mum as well, have a bucket next to them filled with soapy water, and scrub the step at least once a week. The step was the calling card of the East End housewife.

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    • I’ve seen that in Baltimore. Every week on Saturday, the women would go and scrub their steps. In Baltimore, it was always three white steps. Each house, the same, with those bright clean steps. I don’t know if those neighborhoods exist anymore … but now I know where the tradition comes from 🙂

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    • Stoops were a big part of a New York childhood. For sitting, for game playing and creating new games. For gatherings. “Meet you on Mary’s stoop” and off we’d go. Someone mentioned it in a comment and I had all these stoop-related memories 🙂

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  4. Marilyn,
    Love this post! As a Florida girl, my joy with stoops is well, weird… (?), since we don’t have many, but having lived and visited several cities with rising architecture (and stoops), I adore them, specifically, their encouragement to sit outside, talk with neighbors, and play. Bravo! Thanks for Stoop 101!

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    • It is one of the things I miss living in the country. If you want to chat with neighbors around here, you need to go to church … and the grocery store … and the convenience store. The houses are too far apart of just chatting. Churches around here are as much (or more) about meeting people as they are about any kind of religion.

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  5. Wonderful post. I grew up in the suburbs of New York City, but we had a definite stoop and it was always the spot for group photos. Still is at my mom’s house. It was a good way to fit everyone in the picture. It was also a common spot to sit and watch the world go by or talk out of earshot of the folks!

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  6. In the country, all doors are important, since they all lead somewhere in the shortest direction. We had a back stoop with one step leading off the summer kitchen and was a main line to the barn. The front of the house had a front stoop but my parents remodeled and stoop became two big cement blocks which we occasionally called a ‘stoop’ but only if we were going to be sitting on it.

    Here we have a shore’nuff for real porch, but the front steps do qualify as a stoop, so we’ve got it covered. Also the steps leading up to the kitchen L I call a stoop, but not the long foundation stones in front of the wood door.

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    • Living far outside down, stoop sitting has lost its purpose. There is almost NO foot traffic on this street. An occasional bicycle, but no one walks. It’s too far to anyplace. In town, people still sit on porches and stoops, but we are miles out of town. We don’t even get missionaries trying to sell us God.

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    • The word is spreading. When I was a kid, it was New York ONLY, but New Yorkers have moved around and taken the language with them, so now, the entire east coast up into Canada has adopted many words that were unique to the Dutch heritage of NY. The migration of native New Yorker … I think at least half of the population of Massachusetts is originally from New York. Both Garry and I are from NY.

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  7. We had a stoop in front of our house in Nebraska. It was always a “stoop.” I don’t think my mom had ever been in New York at that point. Actually, in my ancestral family it was a stoop, too. I think, possibly, in the case of my grandma, it came west with those Mennonites from PA, many of whom were Dutch. 🙂 I had no idea the history of the word. I thought everyone used it!

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    • it has spread a lot since I was a kid. When i was maybe 10, my cousin from Virginia didn’t know what I meant when i said “stoop.” Now, everyone in this state knows and uses the word. Wherever people from Holland settled, they brought bits of language with them. Israel had bits of everything in it, having been occupied by Greeks, Arabs, Romans, the British, briefly by Germans … and who knows who else and they all left bits of their language behind.

      I thought everyone used the word, too. i remember asking my cousin, “So, what do you call the steps leading to the door and the little place to stand on top,” and she said “Front steps.” But I think, after that, she adopted stoop and brought it home with her to Virginia.

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  8. Growing up in NYC, stoops weren’t merely outer steps leading to a door. No, they were first base or third base when I played stickball with my friends as a kid! Ah, memories…

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    • Oh, right. We have some very oddly shaped stickball fields. First base, Carol’s stoop. Second, the street lamp by the Wilcox house, Third, the drain opposite the streelamp, and home, wherever we drew it with the chalk, unless a car was coming, which rendered whatever it was a foul. Because even a home run wasn’t worth getting hit by a car.

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