What are Some Alternative Words for Toilet and Where do They Come From?
Bog, Loo, Shi… that’s enough! Everyone has a different name for the humble toilet that sits centre stage in bathroom suites across the world. So, in celebration of the fact that the human race has such a huge range of names for this most private of facilities, we’ve put together a list of the alternative words for toilet that are used across the UK, Europe and internationally.
Read on to discover some alternative words for toilet and where they come from.
Where does the word toilet come from?
Let’s begin with the most popular - toilet.
The word toilet is French in origin and is derived from the word ‘toilette’, which translates as ‘dressing room’, rather than today’s meaning. Toilette itself has its roots in another word; ‘toile’, which means ‘cloth’.
This cloth would be draped over someone while their hair was being groomed. The word then gained a broader meaning, covering various procedures and routines that involved getting ready for the day ahead. In fact, the whole process of getting ready in the morning became known as ‘completing one’s toilet’.
As going to the toilet in a chamber pot was part of this process, the word toile became increasingly associated with the physical act of ‘going to the toilet’. By the twentieth century, the word toilet had lost its former meaning of getting ready in the morning.
So, with the origins of the word toilet established, let’s take a look at some alternative words to toilet.
One of the cruder words on this list, the use of the word ‘bog’ to refer to the toilet dates back to 1789, when it took the form ‘boghouse’. Boghouse comes from the British slang meaning to defecate, so when you go the bog, you really are being quite literal!
Another rather vulgar term for toilet is ‘cludgie’. It refers to an outside toilet and is predominantly used in Scotland.
Comfort Room (CR)
Arising for similar reasons as ‘restroom’, ‘comfort room’ is in common usage in the Philippines (as well as a few neighbouring countries), as an alternative word to toilet. Just as toilets are sometimes referred to as the WC (an initialism of Water Closet), in the Philippines, toilets are sometimes simply referred to as the CR.
A rather more vulgar word for toilet is ‘crapper’. First appearing in 1932, crapper became a popular alternative word for toilet thanks to the Thomas Crapper & Co Ltd company that manufactured toilets. Although Thomas Crapper didn’t actually invent the toilet, he did create several innovations including the floating ballcock and the u-bend. But, just as brand names such as Hoover become synonymous with a type of product, so Crapper’s name became synonymous with the toilet.
Take a trip down under and you’ll undoubtedly hear this word being used to refer to a trip to the toilet. Dunny originally comes from the British word ‘dunnekin’, which means ‘dung house. In Scotland, dunny originally meant an underground passage or cellar (you certainly wouldn’t want to confuse these two different meanings!).
As an interesting aside, the poor soul who had the unfortunate job of emptying the pan beneath the seat in a ‘dunny’ was known as a ‘dunnyman’.
If you were (unlucky?) enough to be on a ship during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, you’d have had to go to the toilet at the head (or bow) of the ship. So, another word for the toilet was born. The toilet was located in this part of the ship as the waves would rise up against the bow, washing the waste away.
The first known use of the term was in 1708, when Woodes Rogers, Governor of the Bahamas, wrote ‘head’ to refer to a ship’s toilet in his book, A Cruising Voyage Around the World.
House of Office
Very much an alternative word for toilet that has died out, ‘house of office’ was commonly used in seventeenth century England to apply to the standalone toilet (or outhouse). The famous diarist Samuel Pepys made numerous references to the house of office, writing in his diary on 23rd October, 1660 “(G)oing down into my cellar… I put my foot into a great heap of turds, by which I find Mr Turner’s house of office is full and comes into my cellar.” Not the best way to discover your neighbour’s toilet is full…
The jacks is Irish slang for toilet, derived from the older English word for toilet jakes. Jakes itself comes from ‘The John’ (see above).
Sir John Harrington was the inventor of the forerunner of the first flushing toilet (known as the Ajax), so it’s only fitting that his first name should have become synonymous with the toilet.
A writer who lived in the sixteenth century and was one of Queen Elizabeth I’s god-children, Sir John came up with the word Ajax for his flushing toilet from the word ‘Jakes’ which was at the time a slang term for toilet.
Shortly after devising the first flushing toilet, he released A New Discourse Upon a Stale Subject: The Metamorphosis of Ajax, a book which got him banished from the Royal court due to his sly digs at the Earl of Leicester and its talk of excrement poisoning the state.
Despite his reputation for causing mischief and calumny with his words, his invention was viewed as a genuine innovation.
Another slightly dated alternative word to the toilet, ‘khazi’ (also spelt karzy, kharsie or carzey) is derived from the low Cockney word ‘carsey’, meaning a privy. It has its roots in the nineteenth century, but gained popular usage during the twentieth century.
Some lexicographers (a person who compiles dictionaries), suggest that khazi could have come from the Italian word casa, which means house. Others think that khazi could be derived from Swahili - ‘M’khazi’ means latrine in this African language.
The word Latrine has its roots in both Latin and French. It comes from the Latin word for wash, ‘lavare’. Over time, this Latin word evolved into ‘lavatrina’ which was then shortened to ‘latrina’ before eventually becoming ‘latrine’ courtesy of the French people in the mid-1600s.
Today, the word ‘latrine’ is not really in common usage. Instead, it appears to be a term predominantly used by the military. The Army and RAF apply it to any area where human waste is disposed of, whereas a civilian would normally refer to these areas as toilets or bathrooms.
Another word with a Latin root, lavatory comes from ‘lavare’. During the Medieval period it evolved into ‘lavatorium’ (which means washbasin), before arriving at the lavatory at some point in the 14th century.
Despite being a very British word for toilet, ‘loo’ is actually derived from the French phrase ‘guardez l’eau’, which means ‘watch out for the water’.
This delightful phrase gained popularity due to the habits of medieval Europeans who would shout the phrase before emptying their chamber pots out of their bedroom windows into the street below.
The British soon adopted this phrase, but as with any phrase it changed once it crossed the border to become ‘gardy-loo’. Over time, it became loo and was applied to the toilet itself.
A very colloquial phrase, ‘the netty’ is a phrase that is largely confined to the North East of England. Nobody is quite sure of the exact origins of this word, although it’s thought to be either a corruption of the word graffiti or from daubings on Hadrian’s Wall. Nevertheless, if you find yourself in Newcastle or Sunderland and say you’re ‘Gannin’ to the netty’, the locals will know you’re off to do your business…
Yet another alternative word for toilet derived from French, ‘pissoir’ is derived from the Middle French word ‘pisser’, which means to urinate. In France, the term was largely used to refer to public urinals.
Commonly used to refer to women’s toilets in public buildings in America, ‘powder room’ originated during the Prohibition. Toilets provided for women in bars during this period were referred to as powder rooms… and the name stuck!
Rarely used these days, ‘the privy’ originally meant a hidden place or the sharing of secret or private thoughts. Over time, however, especially in the North of England and Scotland, the word privy was conflated with toilet, and eventually, this new meaning supplanted the old meaning.
In America, you’ll often hear the toilet referred to as the ‘restroom’. This alternative word for toilet first gained popular usage in the early twentieth century. Alluding to the toilet as somewhere one could ‘have a rest’ and ‘refresh oneself’, it’s redolent of an age when our turns of phrase erred on the side of modesty.
A very unusual alternative word for toilet is ‘vin’. It has its roots in the English aristocracy and upper classes. It was used to refer to the indoor toilet (as at the time, only the very wealthy had indoor toilets). Today, it’s extremely rare, although a few private schools continue to use the term.
It is also suggested that vin is a corruption of vin de toilette, or toilet wine!
Water Closet (WC)
The phrase ‘water closet’ arose in England in the 1870s. Originally ‘wash-down closet’, it quickly evolved into the phrase water closet through common usage. Over time, it has simply become ‘WC’. In fact, in some countries such as Mexico WC is widely used on toilet signage, although the majority of the population don’t actually know the derivations of the letters.
Toilets these days are still called different names throughout the world but they have developed dramatically since the basic hole in the ground or bucket. With amazing plumbing systems and developments in technology you've now got the choice of a bog-standard close coupled toilet, a wall hung toilet, a 2-in-1 toilet and sink, and even dual flush and water-saving options. This wonderful choice allows you to find the best toilet, bog, WC, or loo for your home.
Claire has a Journalism degree and loves writing about all things relating to bathroom and kitchen design. In her spare time, she enjoys photography and following the latest home styling trends on social media.
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