I was shelving my copy of “The Horologicon” by Mark Forsyth this week and noticed I’d marked his section about how to say you need to use the bathroom. Apparently in Victorian times you would explain that you needed to visit Mrs. Jones. Jones isn’t a particularly unusual surname so I do wonder how Mrs. Jones felt about this phrase.
The need to urinate has spawned a vast array of euphemisms. Here is a selection. Feel free to add some in the comments as I’m sure I won’t be comprehensive. Some are more explicit than others so don’t read on if you’re easily offended. That’s why we have euphemisms in the first place, I suppose.
- Pay a visit to Mrs. Jones (Victorian)
- Powder your nose (mainly used in US)
- Caught short
- Take a leek
- Take the Browns to the Super Bowl (American)
- Drain the snake
- Use the restroom (American)
- Visit the little girls’/boys’ room
- I need to wash my hands
- Spend a penny (English – public toilets used to require a penny to open the door to the cubicle)
- visit the conveniences
- call of nature
- going to the loo
- where’s the head (nautical)
- going to the jacks (I think this one is Irish – can anybody confirm? May comes from jakes, the Tudor term for the toilet)
- I’m going to talk to a man about a horse/package
- I need to freshen up (American – not always understood in British English)
- Going for a big greasy jobby (Scottish)
- going for a slash/piss/wee
- go potty (small children) presumably from the old-fashioned chamber pots originally
- I’m going to the throne room
The toilet itself can be named john, pisser, loo, bog, can, throne, smallest room, privy (dates back to 1200s), washroom (especially in Canada), lav (short for lavatory), WC (water closet), crapper, outhouse, dunny (Australia), biffy (America), commode (from French), netty or necessary (Northern England), carsey/karzy (Cockney) etc. There’s a very good article about the etymology of many of those here.
The origin of the word loo is debatable. It is often seen as a shortening of the word lavatory from the early 1900s. Lavatory came from the French phrase lieux d’aisances (a place of ease) and was collected by British soldiers serving in France during World War I but there’s also a chance that loo is a pun on Waterloo, based on the English use of WC or water closet.
Can you add to the list?
Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,
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