Monday, June 27, 2011


I don't want to offend anyone, so if you find this topic distasteful, skip this one.

A friend from the South told me an anecdote about a "rooster". Just back from the U.K., I note that Brits don't hesitate to call the male bird by its original name.

My thoughts turn to euphemisms (in both countries) for the place where my British contemporaries used to go to "spend a penny"--that's the coin they used to need, to obtain access to a "public convenience". In Britain, the upper and middle classes go to the "loo". I noticed that some Brits (notably on the BA planes which took us to and from Heathrow) have adopted the Canadian term "washroom", which I had not heard across the Atlantic until this last trip. That's really a variant on "lavatory", the normal term when I was growing up: it wasn't a place where you went to wash. I heard "bog" used in England, also.

At my British "prep school" (aged 8 through 13), matron was always ready to hand out a laxative to those who answered in the negative to "Have you been through?"

In the U.S., I tend to prefer "john" to describe the "s***house", where a stepdaughter once expanded my vocabulary by saying she was going to "dump a load".

In the British Navy, I learned to use the term widely known by yachtsmen and others on vessels of all types, the "head". I've read of the place being called the "Jakes", but not met that term in conversation. "Toilet" is widely used by English speakers. "Would you like to wash your hands?" really means "Do you want to use the loo?".

Another expression from the UK, widely used, is "W.C." this stands for "water closet", and probably dates from the 19th century, when this invention superseded the outhouse. The famous plumbing specialist of the early 19th century, Thomas Crapper, has given his name to the water closet, although he didn't actually invent it. He might be dismayed by knowing how the first four letters of his name have come to be used.

1 comment:

  1. I have for many years thought that we in the US were being totally silly to call the public convenience the Rest Room. One should not expect to rest there at all. I like the fact that most people in the world are very matter-of-fact about them. In my travels to European countries with various choirs, I have been surprised in at least two countries to see a loo in the corner of the dining room of older restaurants that have obviously been there longer than indoor toilets. One was in the very popular Paris Brasserie "Au Pied de Cochon," that used to serve workers in Les Halles before it was the lovely place it is now. Even though they only opened in 1946 it must not have been the practice. Either that or they were very proud of the fact that they had one. What do you think, Nigel? The other was in a very small neighborhood restaurant in Barcelona. At first I was taken aback to think that everyone would be knowing where I was going. It didn't take me long to realize that no one was even looking in my direction.