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Why is it normal in British English to say map room (for a room for keeping and viewing maps in) but games room (for a room for playing games in)?

To my native British ear these forms sound overwhelmingly preferable, even if the alternative forms are also sometimes used. Websearches yielded the following data.

Sites on the .uk domain:

"map room" 23800 hits
"maps room" 17400 hits
"game room" 407,000 hits
"games room" 803,000 hits

Some of the hits for "maps room" were misleading, so I narrowed to the .ac.uk domain and got

"map room" 1870 hits
"maps room" 43 hits
"game room" 359 hits
"games room" 2320 hits

which supports what my ears are telling me.

(A worldwide search yielded

"map room" 606000 hits
"maps room" 196000 hits
"game room" 38,700,000 hits
"games room" 10,700,000 hits

Clearly in non-British English game room is common, but the question concerns British English only.)

I am wondering whether the impression one gets from the notion of a room for reading maps in tends to be of maps that are either all similar in form or, even if some aren't, are nonetheless essentially similar to each other; whereas, when the notion is of a room for playing games in, one is more likely to get an impression of significant variation. Moreover, a map in this connection is thought of as stored and fixed, whereas although the tools for a game can be stored in a room, the term "game" can also denote an instance of playing the game, and in this sense a new game is created each time the game is played, with great variety as a consequence. There is perhaps more perceived variety in playing than in consulting.

And what, in British English that does not grate on native ears, should we call a room that is both for reading maps in and for playing games in? A map and games room? Although that sounds right to my ear, doubt arises when I start thinking about it. Do people have some other suggestions?

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This is merely the tip of an extensive linguistic phenomenon spanning the English-speaking world, although examples from the British Isles seem somewhat more common. Many "Purpose Rooms" or facilities are routinely referred to in the singular, even though the room itself may contain a great many items.

The "Map Room" appears to be the latter-day adaptation of the "Chart Room." (The word-tense is singular, for no matter the number of "charts" on hand, only one can be scrutinized at a time.) Continuing the litany: A "File Room," contains many "File Cabinets," each holding hundreds of files; There is a "Radio Room" aboard ship, despite the fact that oceangoing vessels routinely utilize multiple radio sets; The "Gun Room" is found in every notable "great house," wherein are or were stored veritable arsenals; in the same mansion will be a "Trophy Room," containing scores if not hundreds of game mounts; the estate will have a "Tack Room," containing the "tack" for every steed in the stable; a college or university will have at least one "Rare Book Room," wherein one might find a score of first folios; a manufacturing plant on either side of the Atlantic will have a "Tool Room," where one goes to borrow any one of a thousand or more "tools;" plants in America have signs directing one to the "Toilet Room," even though there will almost always be more than one 'loo.

In all cases, these locations are where one goes to obtain, peruse, use, or store one such item at a time. As "doing" more than one thing at a time is impossible, the declarative subject is expressed as a singular noun.

Text flows more smoothly when subjects are expressed as singular nouns. "Should I take a notion to engage in a spot of hunting on the estate, my Purdy (shotgun) is already in the gun room. This is, incidentally, hard by the trophy room, wherein is kept the original Lord Thingummy's rare white elephant." Linguistically, this makes perfect sense, and smoothly flows from either one's pen or lips.

This is a linguistic artifact dating back at least to the founding of the oceangoing actuarial firm of Lloyd's of London, for the founders had established the first "Chart Room." The wall-size nautical chart at Lloyd's showed the seas of the world, allowing clerks to quickly establish where the "Morris Celeste" had sunk.

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  • I don't think gun room flows more smoothly than guns room (one could argue the opposite). Then there's the extremely "unsmooth" jobs report, drugs dealer, numbers crunching, birds conservation, et al. Jun 11 '16 at 13:56

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