There are a lot of things in this world that we say without even knowing the meaning or reasoning behind it. We’re influenced by what other people say, and more often than not we don’t question these things, we just accept them and continue on oblivious. But today, we’re going to try and change that and give you a quick explanation into a word that is used to refer to a common household item – ‘the John’.
Whilst I’m sure nearly everyone has heard of this slang or reference before; there’s bound to be someone out there who hasn’t. So, just to cover all bases and avoid any confused questions; this article is about the common household toilet being referred to as a ‘John’.
How Did the Term Originate?
There are several theories behind the origination of the term, but one of the most widely discussed and proposed to be the likeliest is derived from the one Sir John Harrington. Born in 1561, and later dying in 1612, Sir John Harrington was in fact a god-child of Queen Elizabeth the First. Because there were over 102 god-children, it became exceedingly hard to keep track of them all; however, this wasn’t a problem for Harrington as he was considered to be quite lewd in regards to poetry and other musings which earned him the reputation of being the “saucy godson”. Nobody could forget that nickname!
More importantly, Harrington was a popular figure due to his invention of the first operational flushing toilet in the British Isles. He named this contraption the ‘Ajax’ that was actually based upon the word ‘Jakes’ which at the time was a slang term used to describe what is now referred to as the toilet – hope that makes sense.
It wasn’t long after his invention that Sir John Harrington wrote what was considered to be one of his most popular pieces of work: “A New Discourse upon a Stale Subject: The Metamorphosis of Ajax”. This was primarily about his recent work on the Ajax, but also had undertones that commented on how the country was slowly becoming infected by the lack of an adequate waste system due to the excrement. Harrington’s book received both praise and criticism due to indirect references that mentioned the Earl of Leicester. Regardless of this, the flushing toilet was both functioning and real which led to Harrington becoming quite the popular chap. Years later, 1596 to be precise, the Queen of England actually had one installed as it was so revolutionary.
Whilst this wasn’t the first flushing toilet to be designed, it was the first in Britain at that moment in time and thus was a noteworthy invention. Therefore, he was deemed to be the ‘inventor’ of the device and it consequently became known as the ‘John’ based on his name.
It should be noted that there are other references out there that refer to the toilet being called things such as ‘Cousin John’, ‘Jake’ and a variety of other common names before Sir John was even born. However, in most circles it’s the accepted thought that the toilet is called the ‘John’ based on Harrington and his popularisation of the word.
Bonus Fact – Loo
The word ‘loo’ is also a term commonly used to refer to a toilet; this comes from the French phrase “guardez l’eau” which was shouted when emptying chamber pots from the windows. Translated to English, it means watch out for the water. Us English folk then shortened it to ‘gardy-loo’ and yet again to just ‘loo’ – we’re lazy like that. Over time, it became common to refer to the toilet as the ‘loo’.
What other nicknames do people give the toilet? Find out in our article.
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