1690s, "desk with drawers for papers, writing desk," from French bureau (plural bureaux) "office; desk, writing table," originally "cloth covering for a desk," from burel "coarse woolen cloth" (as a cover for writing desks), Old French diminutive of bure "dark brown cloth," which is perhaps either from Latin burrus "red" (see burro) or from Late Latin burra "wool, shaggy garment" (which is of unknown origin).
Bureau desks being the common furniture of offices, the meaning expanded by 1720 to "office or place where business is transacted," and by 1796 to "division of a government." The meaning "chest of drawers for clothes, etc.," is from 1770, said to be American English but early in British use.
updated on October 25, 2022
Dictionary entries near bureau