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When is a Bubble a Dome?

When is a Bubble a Dome?

Bubbles, domes, air structures… we’ve heard them all! At The Farley Group, the technical term for what we build is an ‘air-supported structure,’ but as Shakespeare wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

‘Ole Shakey is right, no matter what you call it; most of the words are as obvious as the structures themselves. But why are there so many names? Wouldn’t it be easier if everyone called them the same thing?

When it comes to the technical names, most will use either air-supported structure or air-inflated structure. These names are the most descriptive of the technology but they are a bit of a mouthful. It is no wonder that folks have come up with the more colloquial terms, domes and bubbles.


Sports Dome

Dome and Bubble Etymology

The English language is a funny thing. Countries all around the world use it, but colloquial terms and nouns often vary wherever you find yourself. In England, an elevator is a lift. In Australia, a bicycle is a pushbike. In Canada, a beanie is a toque. Words hold whatever meaning intended by those who use them and meanings often change over time. The study of changing language—or etymology—is fascinating so we dug a little deeper into domes and bubbles.

The word ‘dome’ originally comes from the Latin word ‘domus’, which means house. This makes sense when you think of the words domestic or domicile having the root, ‘dom’. Italian (duomo) used the word for a revered house or ‘house of God’ and so it became the word for any cathedral. French then used the word (dôme) to describe the rounded roof, and this is where the modern meaning of the word comes from. In English, the word dome describes any structure with a rounded shape.

‘Bubble’ is a unique word whose etymology is a touch hazy. It doesn’t have Latin or Greek roots, and instead appears to come from the 1300’s and the Middle English word ‘bobel’. Currently, ‘bubble’ has multiple uses but it’s often described as a spherically contained volume of air or gas. This is also a good description of what an air-supported structure is!

We are not quite sure why both terms, bubbles and domes, are used. From our experience though, it appears to be regional. 

Domes in the North, Bubbles in the South

In Canada and the northern part of the United States, we most often hear the term domes. When we travel further south, we have to re-accustom ourselves to using and hearing ‘bubbles’. For example, there have been times when we have gone to visit a dome and gotten some puzzled looks when asking, “How do we get to the dome?” “Oh! You mean the bubble!”

So, we might say dome and you might say bubble, but neither is right or wrong. Just like pronouncing the word tomato as toe-may-toe or toe-mah-toe, it’s all the same in the end. Sport domes, tennis bubbles, or air structures. Whatever you call it, an air-supported structure, like a rose, will smell just as sweet.

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