Saturday, March 24, 2007

toilet

Howard wrote recently to ask:
What about the word Toilet? From correspondence and discussions with American friends, I am given to understand that this is very much a no-no word in AmE.
In AmE, toilet is used to refer to the porcelain receptacle for human waste, but not usually to the room in which it's situated. It can refer to either in BrE. So, toilet is a perfectly usable word in AmE when one wants to refer to the fixture, as in I stood on the toilet in order to change the lightbulb. But one wouldn't usually hear it in AmE in contexts in which is refers to the room, as in They were smoking in the girls' toilet(s). For someone who associates that word only with the porcelain object, it seems a bit too personal to say Where's the toilet?, since there's no doubt that bodily functions will be involved if you're asking for that porcelain object. On the other hand, asking for the room in which the toilet sits seems less personal, since there are lots of reasons to go to that room (e.g. to brush your teeth, get some toilet paper for blowing your nose, adjust your toupee...). So, one asks for the room, and no one is forced to contemplate bodily functions.

In AmE, bathroom has been used to euphemi{s/z}e 'toilet' for so long that go to the bathroom means 'evacuate one's bladder/bowels'. So, an unfortunate person might say to the doctor I have pain when I go to the bathroom. They don't mean that they knock their head on the door frame. Because bathroom = bodily functions, that word has become tainted as taboo, and thus other euphemisms like restroom and powder room have been invented for the room.

BrE has different reasons for having many names for the room with a toilet. One is that bathroom only indicates a room with a (BrE) bath/(AmE) bathtub, whereas in AmE it refers to a room with a toilet (and usually a sink, and possibly a bath(tub) or shower). I heard the following exchange a couple of years ago in the National Gallery (London) between a couple of American tourists and a cruel (and probably bored) security guard:
Tourist: Could you tell us where the restroom is?
Guard: Do you need a rest?
Tourist: Oh no--I mean the bathroom.
Guard: Why? Do you want to have a bath (=AmE take a bath)?
Tourists: *gasping for another word*
Guard: I can direct you to the ladies' toilets.
Since bathroom refers only to rooms with baths, toilet or loo is used for a room with a toilet/sink, and sometimes shower room is used for a room with a toilet, sink and shower. (To my AmE ears, that sounds like a room with just showers--such as one finds in a gym.) I remember as a child learning that the British say water closet or W.C., but it's not a very popular phrase today, at least not in the circles in which I travel. I've seen W.C. on public facilities far more often in France than in England. A term I wasn't prepared for but do hear a lot is en suite (bath/toilet) which refers to a room with a toilet (etc.) that is adjacent and private to a bedroom. This comes from French (bien sûr). En suite accommodation is a hotel (or bed-and-breakfast) room that has its own toilet/bathing facilities.

While/Whilst toilet is less taboo in BrE than in AmE, some people avoid it because it is déclassé* (or non-U, in BrE terms). The U (i.e. upper class) terms are lavatory (or lav for short) or loo. At school in the US, I was taught to ask to visit the lavatory. I can still recall my classmates' and my confusion as to why the bathroom was called the laboratory. I can also recall Sister Helen's exasperation with our insistence on saying labatory or labratory (the usual AmE pronunciation of laboratory).

When I first moved to South Africa, and was faced with not being understood when using AmE euphemisms for the room with the toilet in it, it caused me considerable discomfort to ask Where are the toilets? Loo came to the rescue, since it was clear to me that that referred to the room. But by the time I left SA, I'd got(ten) used to saying toilet when I needed one. You should've seen the looks on faces when I asked for the toilet on my first day at my new job in Texas. It was at a reception for faculty wives and female faculty. Yes, this university was so conservative that it was considered improper for faculty husbands and faculty wives to have luncheons on their own, so they avoided the problem by inviting the female faculty instead of their husbands. So there I was in a reception full of big-haired, proper Texan ladies (one of whom actually said to me 'It must be so good to be back in civili{s/z}ation'!) and I asked for the toilet. It was priceless.

*Déclassé can be used in AmE to mean 'reduced in social standing' (i.e. formerly higher status) or 'of low social status' (i.e. not originally at a higher status). The OED has only the former meaning, so I am unsure at the moment whether my use of déclassé here is AmE, or if the OED is just a bit out-of-date on that one. Better Half is away, so you'll have to be my guide.

78 comments:

jangari said...

Your remark on Water Closet is interesting, as I distinctly remember noting while in Italy that every single bathroom/toilet/dunny that I saw had W.C. on the door. I wasn't at all used to it as we don't use it in Australia and I wouldn't have expected a non-English speaking country to use such an out-dated British term.

In fact, something else that made it stick in my memory is that it featured in a question on one of those bizarre Italian quiz shows. The question was 'what does W.C. stand for in English' and the multiple choice answers were various things whose English translations would have acronymised to W.C., though most were stupid - window cleaner was one, I think.

My point is that in those parts of Europe where W.C. is used, it is as meaningless as Latin tags are to most people. E.g. comes to mind. Everyone knows it means 'example' even if they don't know that it derives from exemplum gratis. Similarly, everyone in Europe may know that W.C. means bathroom but still may not know that it comes from water closet.

John Cowan said...

Ahem. Exempli gratiâ, for the sake of an example. ("Romanes eunt domus!")

AllieTheKiwi said...

I'll admit to something possibly a little odd here in that I love looking at houseplans. I'll even get books of them out of the library and wish that we could have this bit of that house and that bit of this house and... (I think we can see whence my son gets his autistic tendencies.)

Anyway, the reason I mention this is that many plans still use 'W.C' to identify... that room. As if the little toilet symbol didn't give it away.

So what is AmE for 'ensuite'? We use it (ensuite) down here, but not to mean the room-with-bathroom-(and loo) attached, but rather the small bathroom itself. 'Master bedroom and ensuite'. Hmm, now I think about it, I'm not sure if we put the space between the 'en' and 'suite' as we're supposed to!

Please imagine raised eyebrow for american pronunciation of laboratory - I'd not come across that difference previously.

Hodge said...

My the master bathroom in my house has the toilet in a small room that can be closed off from the sinks and bath. I have taken to calling that room the W.C., just because I happen to like the anachronistic sound it has. I remember learning the term while reading The Diary of Anne Frank in school.

And I couldn't agree more about how horrible it sounds to call the whole room "toilet". However, the term that I really object to is "John", as it is my first name.

patricia said...

In my household, for the past two years, the room and the porcelain fixture have been referred to as "the potty, and the act of using it is "going to the potty".

I wonder, are there other words that are typically used with young children who might be toilet/potty training?

JohnB said...

Ahh. I have always associated toilet with this definition ...

toilette

noun
the act of dressing and preparing yourself; "he made his morning toilet and went to breakfast" [syn: toilet]

But I also use toilet to refer to the room itself as well as the pan itself. I assumed the room meaning of toilet came about because the room itself was used to make your morning toilet.

Interestingly, I suspect Water Closet was based on the concept of a small room as well - and the early English name for the room itself was a gaurderobe (I think its spelled like that) which eventually turned into the word 'wardrobe'. Which then went on to mean a collection of clothing rather than the cupboards the clothes resided in.

Which actually takes us back to another definition of toilet ...

toi·let /ˈtɔɪlɪt/

8. the dress or costume of a person; any particular costume: toilet of white silk.

lynneguist said...

Ergh. I left a long comment here earlier and it's not shown up. Ergh.

Allie, I think using W/C might be part of architectural jargon, as I recall seeing it in American plans as well. As for the pronunciation of laboratory, the [br] pronunciation is the one given by the American Heritage Dictionary, though sometimes one might hear a slight schwa between the b and r. One might stress the bor syllable and pronounces the full /o/ only if one wants to sound like a mad scientist.

I reali{s/z}ed late that I left out another BrE term for a toilet-room: cloak-room (which can also mean a room for coats, as it does in AmE). I've usually heard cloak-room used for the type of small toilet+sink room that one might find below a staircase or near the entrance to a house. In one such case, the room had hooks for coats, but otherwise it's just been a toilet room. This proves that Americans don't hold the patent on toilet euphemisms!

lynneguist said...

Oh, and the other thing I said in that original comment was:

There is no equivalent of en suite in AmE. If there's a bathroom attached to the master bedroom of a house, it's called the master bath(room). There's no special term for a hotel room with a bathroom, as it's generally assumed that hotel rooms will have bathrooms (and double beds. The lack of these in 'single' European hotel rooms can be another shock to the American tourist). For a B&B, they'd probably say that the room has a private bath(room).

jack said...

I've sometimes seen the bathroom referred to as a toilet in signage for museums, the Field Museum in Chicago does this for the main floor restrooms.

If you like old Victorian house planbooks, like I do, then you'll see "W.C." sometimes, though "Bath Room" is most common.

dearieme said...

What do you call them at school? We used "the bogs".

Hodge said...

At elementary/primary/grammar school, they were called the (little) boys/girls room. I never used the word "little", but most did. Any pre-school child uses the "potty". After the age of 12 or so, I would just call it the restroom.

Ambarish said...

The "bogs" comment brings back memories. We used the term all the way to college (in India), and it was understood that it was slang and an abbreviation for "Bathrooms Of Graduate Students" [1]. Imagine why shock and horror when I found out it was a proper English word!

[1] Graduate(BrE)/Under-graduate(AmE)

Tim FitzGerald said...

Thanks for the enlightening article.

Canadians prefer the term bathroom; the only sign for a "rest room" that I've seen North of the border was in Old Montreal in an area highly trafficked by American tourists.

I was under the impression that a bathroom in AmE could only refer to "facilities" (another euphemism at least used in CdnE, it seems to me in AmE also) in a home, and that rest room was the term par excellence when out and about.

In Montreal the Anglo community often refers to the room as the toilet (pluralized in public areas such as restaurants). This might have to do with the French fact (most signs, where they don't just show a man/woman pictogram, read toilettes here). I believe that it's common elsewhere in CdnE, however.

This leads me to a question... How are such facilities indicated in Britain? is there a particular pictogram used?

lynneguist said...

Hi Tim,

The international pictograms for man/woman are used, as elsewhere.

You're right that restroom is usually for public facilities. One can use bathroom for public facilities, but it's more typically used to refer to a room in a home.

jangari said...

Thanks for the correction, John. I never studied any Latin.

Sili said...

In Danish we use "WC" (sans full stops) pronounced /'ve 'se/ (proper /e/) and "toilet" interchangeably for both the room and the fixture. "Bathroom" ("badeværelse") is used if there is actually a bath/shower there, but I'd never use it for a public facility.

Idly, "toilette" is a word I've picked up rather late and I have somewhat affectedly adopted a French pronunciation. Likely as some sort of selfcencorship.

I'm actually fond of using "the little boys' room", even if it does spark the occasional paedophilia joke ...

trevor@kalebeul said...

In Spanish bathroom or whatever is sometimes the gloriously unconfined váter - stout Cortez in the Pacific? - which, with the same origins, also means odourless.

Cameron said...

John, surely that should be "romani ite domum"?? **GRIN**

I prefer to use bog, crapper, shiter (or shitter) or shitehouse, but those are generally considered beyond the pale on either side of the Atlantic. Here or in the US, I usually compromise on "toilet," although over in the States "bathroom" sometimes gets a look-in. I can get away with "toilet" because I am clearly a foreigner and therefore not expected to know any better (this can be a great cover for a great many things in a great many places).

I absolutely cannot bring myself to call it a "restroom" and believe that guy in the museum deserves an award. Restroom is a twee abomination. I mean we all piss and shit, so what's the big secret?

Ken Broadhurst said...

Like most houses in France, ours has a W.C. (a half-bath in AE) and a bathroom (salle de bains). The bathroom has a tub, a sink, and a bidet in it, but no commode (I notice that nobody has mentioned that term). The room called "les W.C." has a commode (aka toilet, itself called un W.C. in French) and a small sink (un lave-mains or "wash-hands").

W.C., singular or plural, is pronounced "vay-say".

When you want to go to the bathroom in France, you ask for les toilettes or les W.C. or even les waters (pronounced "lay wah-tehr").

Because we are two Americans living here, we often have trouble understanding each other because we have both a bathroom where you actually "go to the bathroom" and a bathroom where you take a bath or a shower.

"Where are you going?" one of us might ask. "To the bathroom" is the answer. The problem is the answer doesn't tell you whether the speaker is going to brush his teeth or have a pee.

Ginger Yellow said...

Lynne, do you know the history of the differing usages? I have a pet theory, based mainly on the comments of late 19th century and early 20th century British commentators on America, that AmE has become progressively more euphemised, while BrE has become progressively less so. I'm not just talking about bodily functions and so on, but linguistic style as well. You find a lot of British writers of the period praising the directness of American prose, especially journalistic prose, whereas now you find in the American press the most torturous circumlocutions, and things like headlines with nested clauses and commas all over the shop. Conversely the British press used to be staid and its writers loquacious, yet now all but the Times adopt a far more brusque, informal tone than any US broadsheet. And of course most of the British quality press is perfectly happy to print swear words. There's also Mencken's observations on "cock" vs "rooster" and names for professions, although those have become increasingly euphemism in BrE over the last ten years.

Hodge said...

I do hear the word "commode" sometimes. It sounds very country/hick (I live in North Carolina, USA) and only refers to the device itself. One would not "use the commode" generally, but it would be natural to hear that the commode would be replace when doing renovations.

Ginger Yellow said...

On declasse (can't get the damn accents to work on this new computer), in BrE it would I think normally only be used in the context of somebody acting below their class - someone slumming it or committing a faux pas.

Anonymous said...

As recently as the end of WWII in at least some rural US a "toilet" was an "outhouse", a small building used to deficate, and urinate among other things.

Janet said...

Lynne,

When I first realized that I was making British folks laugh when I asked for the "restroom" or "bathroom", I tried very hard to break the speech habit. John used the word "loo", so I did as well. Then, one day, I began to wonder if it was really an ok word to use "in polite company". So one time I asked him, "Would it ok for me to refer to your mother's toilet as the 'loo'?" He chuckled and said yes. So I've used the term ever since.

But when I go to western Canada to run training classes, I have to remember to use the term "washroom" instead.

Janet

Canadian said...

I use "washroom" for a public facility with no bath. In a private house I would say "bathroom". "Toilet" sounds crude to me. :)

Canadian said...

Oh, and in a private house they sometimes have a room with toilet and sink (no bath/shower) which is called a "powder room". What do Brits call this?

Canadian said...

Oh sorry I see now you said it was a "cloak room".

Ginger Yellow said...

"Oh, and in a private house they sometimes have a room with toilet and sink (no bath/shower) which is called a "powder room". What do Brits call this? "

A toilet. Or a loo. Or a lavvy. Or a bog. Depending on how posh the house is.

Ginger Yellow said...

Incidentally, non-British readers wanting to get a handle on the U/non-U distinction could do worse than watch a few episodes of Keeping Up Appearances. It's not all that funny, to be honest, but the lead character Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet, natch) is exactly the sort of aspiring lower middle class person for whom strict U speech is most important. Actual posh people don't care, because they're secure in their social status.

Ginger Yellow said...

Also, there's almost certainly some of it in The Good Life via Margo, but I can't recall any off the top of my head.

ally said...

My (considers-himself-upper-class, British ex-army officer) grandfather considers toilet to be an affront. He once rounded on my younger brother, then aged about 9, for using it. (The word, that is not the, y'know, thing itself!)

And commode, I always thought, refers to one of those chairs which have a potty in for people who are unable to get to the normal loo.

Peter said...

I understand true upper-classes would use the word “lavatory”, which, of course, is an euphemism itself being from the Latin” to wash”. They would eschew any word that was twee or had a French origin!

lynneguist said...

GY, the idea that Americans are more euphemistic than the British has a lot of currency, but I don't know of any research to back it up. I mean, people always bring out restroom as an example, but is that any more euphemistic than "cloak room" or "lavatory"? I think it all may depend on the subject. I find the British more euphemistic when it comes to disability (see the post on learning disability).

It's also not necessarily the case that being less euphemistic = having a "healthier" attitude on a topic. I can think of lots of examples of people using dysphemism (the opposite of euphemism--being extra crude)in order to hide embarrassment about a topic (sex, death, toilet, etc.).

As for commode, in BrE I've only heard it used for an adult "potty chair" of the kind described by Ally. In AmE, I perceive it as a kind of faux-bourgeois word, possibly more Southern. It's a word I understand in AmE, but wouldn't use myself.

johnb said...

ztDon't forget that Toilet itself is likely euphemistic, coming for the French word toilette - to wash and dress etc ….

Loo – I was always told was contraction of an historical warning ‘Guardez l’eau’ - or ‘look out for the water’ as a chamber pot (porcelain potty) was emptied out of an upper window. (although wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toilets has a range of other explanations.

I suspect the water closet is probably the only non euphemistic word amongst all of those discussed so far. So even euphemisms go in and out of fashion - and some become just down right unacceptable.

Ginger Yellow said...

"GY, the idea that Americans are more euphemistic than the British has a lot of currency, but I don't know of any research to back it up"

It's not so much this synchronic analysis that I'm interested in, as how the styles have change over time.

"I mean, people always bring out restroom as an example, but is that any more euphemistic than "cloak room" or "lavatory"? I think it all may depend on the subject. I find the British more euphemistic when it comes to disability (see the post on learning disability)."

There are multiple things to disentangle hear. One, "cloak room" is a pretty rare euphemism. Two - you're probably right on the disability front - cf the acceptability of "spaz" or even "cripple" in AmE and BrE. And I wouldn't necessarily associate non-euphemism with a healthy attitude - the British have far from healthy attitudes to the sort of things that are euphemised in American society.

I still think the trends are interesting and informative, however. We're in a situation where on one side of the channel the FCC is fining private sector channels hundreds of thousands of dollars for accidental swear words or "wardrobe malfunctions", while on the other the state broadcaster airs "Jerry Springer The Opera" to evangelical protests but nothing more.

Ken Broadhurst said...

My N.C. family is far from bourgeois. I guess they could be called hick/country, but I would say commode is an archaic term that has held on in certain dialects. It's origin is the same as the term convenience(s), which the dictionaries say is a BE term for lavatory or and AE term for a public toilet.

Ken Broadhurst said...

I meant to mention the term outhouse, too. I get the impression from watching British real estate programs on BBC that outhouse in BE means what we would describe as an outbuilding in AE.

lynneguist said...

Ken, you are correct. Outhouse is often used to mean 'a building on a house's property' in BrE (actually, I just heard it in Swedish English yesterday), whereas in AmE it only refers to a privy.

Dr. Tom Roche said...

Random thoughts and observations:

1)Canadian speech seems to favor 'washroom'. Indeed, this term seems almost a shibboleth when it often appears in the ever-increasing number of movies and tv shows filmed north of the Border, but often pawned off on ignorant Americans as American-made. The number of hard-core Canuck accents on the new 'Battlestar Galactica', for instance, is glaring.

2)On American highways, when a 'rest area' (other terms used in other states) is approaching, 'no facilities' seems the common way to indicate that, if you want to go, you'll have to use the bushes.

3)Most Americans these days are indeed very euphemistic when it comes to the name for the room, moreso for the name for the thing you put the you know what into in that room, and even moreso for the two varieties of the stuff that enters that thing. The 'f-word' is only slightly more odious and unacceptable here, for instance, than the 's-word'.

4)I had a French teacher in the seventies who taught us to say, in French, something that sounded like 'doobluh-vay say.'

5)The US armed forces have their own terms-- the navy favors 'the head', whereas 'latrine' is army usage. There was a famous moment in a MASH episode where a visiting Admiral asked where the head was, and Radar had no notion of what it was, until the Admiral decided to start speaking army.

6)Am I correct to assume that the item known here as a 'urinal' carries the same name in the Mother Country?

7)The term 'Potty' shows up amongst children's speech, yes, but 'potty training' is the standard way of referring to this process. 'Potty' also is the standard term used for the big blue portable toilets known as 'port-a-potties' here-- I did hear the term 'port-a-loo' used for a similar item on an episode of 'As Time Goes By'...

the_sybil said...

I have recently had a baby here in America, and was surprised to hear many of the nurses using the term "potty" when they wanted to refer to the act of excretion or the utensil into which it is done. I never did find out why there should be an assumption that new mothers or shortly-to-be new mothers should want to immerse themselves quite so rapidly in infantile language. I find it hard to imagine that the same euphemism would be used in maternity units the other side of the Atlantic.

On the subject of avoiding euphemism, I advocate a return to the word "pisspot".

Ginger Yellow said...

"Am I correct to assume that the item known here as a 'urinal' carries the same name in the Mother Country?"

Yes, although the pronunciation may be different. You hear it with the stress on the first or the second syllable, but mostly the second.

Ken Broadhurst said...

In America, it's a YUR-uh-nuhl. In Britain I think it might be a yuh-REYE-nuhl.

In France, the room where you to to take a leak is the vay-SAY, despite what any French teacher in the U.S. might have told you about doubling that.

Canadian said...

My co-worker just used another euphemism which I realized is also fairly common: ladies' room / men's room. Would this be understood in Britain?

Jill said...

I recently read Liza Picard's book _Victorian London_, in which she contrasts the then-new water closet with a competing design called the earth closet, where the waste one produced was covered up by a flush of dry earth. The author also quotes an advertisement for the earth closets claiming that earth deodorises better than water, and that another benefit is a supply of useful manure.

John Cowan said...

Ken Broadhurst: It's simple. If yer man is going to have a pee, he wants the toilet. If he's going to take a pee, then the bathroom is wanted.
:-)

Ginger Yellow: I think Hyacinth Bouquet is, in fact, very funny (or in rather childish AmE, is too!). Note that Richard, when he has to say his last name -- and it is his last name after all -- still makes it Bucket.

John B.: Water closet is also somewhat euphemistic. To be truly non-euphemistic, we would have to say something like shittery.

The Sybil: And if "pisspot", then "shitstool", too.

Ginger Yellow said...

"If yer man is going to have a pee, he wants the toilet"

Or he's on Blockbusters.

lynneguist said...

I'm just not keeping up with comments while I'm travelling--so glad to see that you're all answering each other's questions!

jack said...

I just rememered that I have a co-worker who calls it "the necessary room."

Cameron said...

I have come to loathe "potty" used as a verb or by adults in adult company just about as much as "restroom," actually more so.

My Texan wife uses "commode" a lot. But here in Britain, as others have said, I have only ever heard it used for the toilet-chair thing used almost exclusively by old, incontinent people.

Oh, and WC is also used in German, pronounced "vay tsay."

Sarah said...

Just wanted to respond to your footnote regarding the two meanings of 'déclassé'... While it may not have made it in the OED, my family uses (and has for decades) the term in the way you mentioned, i.e., to refer to something lower-class. However, now that I think about it, my family usually uses the term in reference to someone's behaviour, rather than a particular supposedly 'high-class' object. Déclassé behaviour seems to revolve around such objects, though, and always smacks of lower-class pretension (like buying oil paintings of someone else's ancestors or constantly mentioning how much one's Prada bag cost), so maybe some of the original sense still survives.

Anonymous said...

(I havn't read all comments so disregard if this is a duplicate link.) Some fairly searous minds have discussed toilet and related matters at this link http://p211.ezboard.com/fwordoriginsorgfrm14.showMessageRange?topicID=117.topic&start=1&stop=20

lynneguist said...

I think your URL has been cut off, Anonymous. I get 'page not found'.

Anonymous said...

Anatoly Liberman has another of his delightfully readable bits on "loo" at
http://blog.oup.com/2007/04/loo/

M said...

This blog is a truly wonderful thing. I was just wondering how to talk about the toilet/restroom/bathroom in a recent blog so as not to offend AmE readers. I searched your blog, and you gave. Thank you.

By the way, as we Aussies don't like to be subsumed under a BrE/AmE classification are we AusE (!) speakers?

lynneguist said...

AusE is regularly seen around here--but mostly in the comments section, as I have little direct knowledge of it myself...

Anonymous said...

I actually think that Men's Room and Ladies' room is the most "preferred" term now. While Restroom and Bathroom etc. are still used, I think that they would probably be considered a standard at the moment.

Giorgia said...

jangari - thank you for referring to Italian-related stuff as

i) bizarre
and
ii) stupid

within just a few comment lines, that was oh so very kind of you.

Maybe you only had to do with people not knowing what "w.c." stands for during your Grand Tour, still at least we do know that "e.g." stands for "exempli gratia" and not for "exemplum gratis".

Greetings from bizarre, stupid Italy.

Anonymous said...

As an American living in London, I've taken to using "the Gents" or the "the Ladies" to refer to public bathrooms.

Anonymous said...

In my hometown in Spain some illiterate person labeled the men's toilet with a W.C. sign and the women's with W.S. I guess he thought W.C. stands for "Wáter de Caballeros" (Gentlemen's toilet) and consequently "Wáter de señoras" should be W.S I found it so funny!

John Cowan said...

Originally commode was simply the pisspot, traditionally kept under the bed so you didn't have to go outside to do your business during the night. The expression doesn't even have a pot to piss in 'is extremely poor' reflects the near-universality of this labor-saving invention. (Defecating in the commode is, of course, taboo; a woman of my acquaintance did so once as a child, not knowing the rules, and got into considerable trouble with the rural relatives with whom she was staying.)

Technically, the chair that usually nowadays holds the commode is a commode chair. I know this because I just bought one for my wife, who is recovering from knee surgery and isn't able to walk to the bathroom.

Jill said...

Since nobody else has done so, I'll mention the Irish English word "jacks" for a men's toilet. I've wondered if it's cognate to the Elizabethan term "jake" with the same meaning.

Anti-nonsense said...

I'm Canadian, and I've seen the term "en-suite bathroom" used for a bathroom attached to a bedroom.

And yes, "washroom" seems to be more common then "restroom" here when talking about public facilities, and "men's room/ladies room" get used a lot too.

booktrash said...

I've always thought that W.C. was an American term - I would never think of using it. I remember my mother (who was doing some sort of course at the time) writing something about Winston Churchill once and abbreviating him to W.C. throughout - she'd never heard of the term and neither had the rest of our family.

I would also use 'go to the bathroom' as a euphemism, and I wouldn't find it strange to use 'bathroom' for a room with no bath. We have a 'loo' in our house (toilet and sink), but we've always called it the cloakroom.

Mac said...

Okay. I love this blog but after the fourth or fifth time reading "better half" in lieu of "husband" I just couldn't go on. It gets tiresome. Regardless of why it's being done or its useage among some readers or the blogger herself, I personally just can't stand the way it jumps off the screen and slaps me while I'm trying to read. So off I go. But much luck and love and pudding to the rest of you.

Anna said...

Ah, the throne room!

Stephen said...

Hmm, I'm American and I've heard and used "en-suite bathroom" many times.

Debbie said...

It strikes me as funny (odd, peculiar and humourous) to hear Americans use the term potty as an euphemism for toilet "wanna go potty?" used to children and even the elderly...
Here in New Zealand a potty is a portable, usually plastic object for a baby to use to urinate or defecate when she is being toilet-trained!

Adam Kuban said...

I realize I commenting WAY after the fact here, but I came here via a Google search. I was trying to find what BrE U speakers use when referring to "toilet paper." You know, since "toilet" is non-U. "Tissue"?

lynneguist said...

There's 'lavatory paper' or 'lavatory roll'. (Google them and you'll see some examples, many more for 'paper'.)

Adam Kuban said...

Thank you so much, Lynne. (I was just reading Sarah Lyall's "Anglo Files," which is why I was curious.)

Anonymous said...

One very frank fictional society in Ursula K. Le Guin's fabulous novel The Dispossessed actually does call the room the shittery and the object a shitstool.

articulett said...

Oh my this brings back memories. I was in Kindergarten in 1969 in Las Vegas when a new kid from England joined the class. I was appalled when he said he had to "go to the toilet." To my 5-year-old ears it sounded vulgar and wrong. "Normal" kids said "I have to go to the bathroom." I can still remember the kid's name and what he was wearing!

I have a British husband and I still giggle when he says he has to go to the "loo". It never occurred to me that "going to the bathroom" would sound odd to British ears. I remember the term "lavatory" was (and still is) used on airplanes and I learned it was a "fancy" name for "bathroom".

articulett said...

Oh my this brings back memories. I was in Kindergarten in 1969 in Las Vegas when a new kid from England joined the class. I was appalled when he said he had to "go to the toilet." To my 5-year-old ears it sounded vulgar and wrong. "Normal" kids said "I have to go to the bathroom." I can still remember the kid's name and what he was wearing!

I have a British husband and I still giggle when he says he has to go to the "loo". It never occurred to me that "going to the bathroom" would sound odd to British ears. I remember the term "lavatory" was (and still is) used on airplanes and I learned it was a "fancy" name for "bathroom".

oscar do so rock said...

Great discussion. At (Br) school it was 'Bog' and this continued in youthful male company into the early twenties but not when mixing with elders or with girlfriends.

I first heard 'loo' at girlfriend's home when in my late teens and adopted this and have used it generally through adulthood although I also use 'lavatory' quite a bit and other names less often.

Finger posts in the street used to indicate PUBLIC CONVENIENCE in the 50s, 60s & 70s and within commercial buildings CONVENIENCES (no PUBLIC to avoid the implication a the public could walk in off the street solely to use the conveniences). Both now generally replaced by TOILETS.

One on-line discussion group where I spend much time, (UK dominated but worldwide English-speaking participants both ex-pat and others) has a recurring conversation every few months when someone mentions how distressed they are to hear people refer to the lavatory as a toilet because such usage is 'common'. A lengthy debate follows which inevitably includes complaints about the use of 'bathroom' and other euphemisms for the facilities but also complaints about euphemistic terms for bodily functions themselves.
I have to admit that I cringe to hear 'potty' used in reference to anyone over three years old.

'GENTS' and 'LADIES' also quite often used except in the domestic context. I would usually ask for one of these rather than any generic term. This is essential in pubs, often evolved from houses or old buildings over many generations rather than purpose built so that these facilities can be far apart. There was an unfortunate fashion, which I hope has passed, in 'amusing' signs for the facilities in pubs. "Cocks" & "Hens", "Colts" & "Fillies", "Bulls" & "Heifers" "Ducks" & "Drakes" and so on, often linked to the name of the pub. Oh, how we laughed.

'Privy', though archaic, is not extinct either.

Mindy said...

I just thought that the term restroom came from the fact that you relieved yourself in one, thus resting.

Elian said...

Since nobody else has done so, I'll mention the colloquial "john" and euphemistic "comfort station" in AmE for a toilet room. Additionally, toilet room seems the preferred choice to designate a bathroom private toilet in hotel accommodations.
Interestingly enough, another meaning of lavatory in AmE is sink/washbowl/washstand/BrE & AmE washbasin. Now, if you'll please excuse me, I have to use the bathroom...

Ted said...

Very late, but I'm wondering if anyone's thought about the etymology of loo (which, fwiw, I would understand but hear as unidiomatic). I've always assumed it was a euphemism for water closet by way of Waterloo, but of course that couldn't be the case if the term predates Wellington's victory. (Then again, I don't suppose it could, since indoor plumbing only arose afterwards.)

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

Ted, allegedly the term comes from the French "l'eau". Apparently the contents of the pot were regularly emptied out of the window into the street below, with a cry of "Gardy loo" ("Gardez l'eau!") to warn unsuspecting passers-by. I don't know how true that is, though - it may be an urban legend.

Personally I grew up calling it the "loo" - "toilet" was definitely a "no-no" in my household. At school, for some obscure reason, it was called "ponty" with no definite article.... And, of course, children were taught to ask to be excused if they were caught short during a lesson, but many of them asked if they could "Go and be excused" as though that were the name of the activity....