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The word ottoman can mean a variety of things. It can refer to anything pertaining to the Ottoman Empire, it can be used to describe a Turkish man of a certain tribe, and it can also indicate a type of cloth. For our purposes, however, we are going to focus on the most widely used definition of the term today: a type of furniture.
Traditionally, it is believed that the ottoman takes its roots from the divan, which is essentially a long, backless seat or padded bench with cushions to lean against. In fact, in some parts of world, the terms "divan" and "ottoman" are still interchangeable. The divan style of furniture was popularly used in the Middle Eastern council chambers of the government agency called Diwan, from which it got its name. The divan was popularized in Europe in the 1800's.
Nowadays, however, especially in North America, when one speaks of an ottoman, one is usually talking about a low, rectangular footrest, usually upholstered, which may double as additional seating or an occasional table. The emergence of the smaller, more minimalist "divan-like" piece of furniture is generally believed to be a western evolution of Eastern furniture influences on European society, which became somewhat of a trend in the 1800's. The ottoman, at least as we know it today, is not believed to have been invented by Ottoman Turks, but was called so in deference to its exotic roots. In point of fact, the ottoman most resembles the Moroccan (North African) pouf, which is a thick cushion used as a seat.
Modern ottomans can be found in almost every furniture store, in various sizes, shapes, materials, and price ranges. An ottoman may also be hollow and may be used as chests for storage. Covered in leather, silk, canvas, or cotton, they have become a staple in most fashionable homes.