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 country; even I tend to say “I’m going to the loo” instead of ever uttering the word ‘toilet’. So, in celebration of the fact that the human race loves to have a varied range of names for such a private place, I’ve put together a list of all the alternative words for toiletsthat I could think of. I’ll explain where they came from, beginning with the word ‘toilet’ itself.
Where Does the Word ‘Toilet’ Come From?
The word ‘toilet’ is actually French in origin, coming from the French word ‘toilette’. Rather than meaning ‘place you go for a pee’ it actually meant ‘dressing room’. ‘Toilette’ itself is derived from another word, coming from ‘toile’, which means ‘cloth’. This cloth would be draped over someone while their hair was being groomed, eventually covering the various elements in the room that were involved in getting ready for the day; such as a mirror, brushes, containers for powder and makeup that were all standing on a dressing table. Going to the toilet, initially in a chamber pot, was considered part of this process and the term gradually begun to be used to refer to the room itself as people used it to get dressed and prepare for the day ahead.
Here’s the full list of terms!
‘Loo’ is our very own British word for the toilet, deriving from the French “guardez l’eau”, which means “watch out for the water”. This is advice that people in medieval Europe literally had to follow, as people simply emptied their chamber pots by tossing the contents out of the window and into the filthy street. A shout of “GUARDEZ L’EAU!!!” meant that you quickly had to get out of the way or end up being covered in someone’s leavings. When the British adopted it they shortened it to the more pronounceable “gardy-loo”, which eventually became “loo” and was applied to the toilet itself.
‘Latrine’ comes from the Latin word for ‘wash’; “lavare”. “Lavare” transformed into “lavatrina” which was then shortened to “latrina” and changed to “latrine” by the French in 1642. Come to think of it the French influence seems to be quite a regular occurrence when it comes to the history of toilet terminology!
Today the term ‘latrine’ is commonly used by the military. The Army and Air Force will apply it to any area where human waste is disposed of, of which a civilian normally refers to as a ‘bathroom’ or ‘toilet’.
This also comes from the Latin word “lavare”, although it follows a different path through the Medieval Latin word ‘lavatorium’, which means ‘washbasin’. It was first used around the 14th century.
‘Head’ is of maritime origin. Traditionally the toilet on a ship was located at the head or bow of the ship, hence the name. It was in this area because the water splashed up at the front of the boat washed the waste away, making the ocean one giant toilet. 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.
‘The John’ is said to be named after Sir John Harrington, a writer who lived in the late 16th and early 17th centuries and was one of Queen Elizabeth I’s 12 god-children. He had a reputation for writing somewhat risqué works, such as poetry. As we stated in our History of Toilets, Sir John also invented Britain’s first flushing toilet known as the ‘Ajax’. He got this name from the term ‘Jakes’, a slang term for the toilet. His following book A New Discourse upon a Stale Subject: The Metamorphosis of Ajax got him banished from the court thanks to his sly digs at the Earl of Leicester and its talk of excrement poisoning the state. But he kept the toilet in his home, which was flushed via a cord allowing water in from a water closet. Despite his reputation for causing havoc with his words, his toilet was seen as a real innovation. While he was by no means the inventor of the flushing toilet, his invention became popular enough that his name is now applied as one term for it.
I must admit that I used to say this a lot as a kid, and I’m surprised to find out that it goes way back to circa 1789. The term is short for ‘boghouse’ and comes from the British slang meaning ‘to defecate’. Lovely!
This term is used in North East England, mostly by Geordies and Mackems. “Gannin te the netty” means “going to the bathroom”. Nobody knows exactly what the etymology of the word is, but it is commonly believed to have come from either a corruption of the word ‘necessity’ or from graffiti on Hadrian’s Wall.
Irish slang for toilet. It is thought that it may be derived from the old English term for the toilet; ‘jakes’ (see ‘The John’).
Another old fashioned term, ‘the privy’ comes from an alternative word for ‘private’ in the North of England and Scotland. It has also been applied when referring to an outhouse in North America.
‘Dunny’ is an Australian expression for an outside toilet or outhouse. It comes from the British word ‘dunnekin’, meaning ‘dung-house’ – a name that it is perfectly suited to! The man who had the unfortunate job of emptying the pan beneath the seat in a ‘dunny’ was known as a ‘dunnyman’.
‘Restroom’ is of early 20th century American origin, applying to ‘having a rest’ and ‘refreshing’ one’s self in the bathroom. The British term ‘retiring room’ is of similar use.
‘Crapper’ is a vulgar term that first appeared circa 1932. It comes from the company ‘Thomas Crapper & Co Ltd.’ a company that manufactured toilets in Britain. American soldiers humorously applied the existing term ‘crap’ to the toilet after learning of the company’s name.
‘Pissoir’ is a French term that is applied to public urinals (we wrote a post about them not long ago). It comes from the Middle French word ‘pisser’, which means to urinate.
House of Office
Commonly used in seventeenth century England to apply to the standalone toilet. Samuel Pepys used the word in his diaries, including this example: “October 23, 1660: …going 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.” I certainly feel sorry for Pepys!
‘Khazi’ is slang for toilet, possibly being derived from the Cockney word ‘carsey’. It is also speculated that it could come from the African language word, Zulu or Swahili, ‘M’khazi’ that is used to refer to a latrine. It is now most commonly used in Liverpool.