Descending into the Sewer…

Toilet humour has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. If I think about it, toilet humour has always been around. However, recently I find myself descending into the sewer and following the wastewater through the treatment plant and out to sea. Even as I write that last line, I find myself laughing, the irony not lost.

Toilet Training

My daughter when she was toilet training, many years ago.

My husband is the Water and Wastewater Treatment Manager for the Christchurch City Council. He has been in the position now for just under a year, and he’s loving every minute of it. He’s a different man to what he was last year, and I love seeing that smile on his face. And my kids love the jokes that go flying around the dinner table. Normally I hate toilet humour while I’m eating that piece of chicken, but with my husband’s quirky sense of humour, it’s hard to avoid.

Humour around toilets is something that many of us in Christchurch have in common. After the earthquakes in Sept 2010 and Feb 2011, many residents were left without running water or flushing toilets. Many of them suffered for months on end. It’s a sad day in a first world country when the neighbourhood is jumping up and down for joy because the porta-potty was finally delivered. Many of my friends have stories about digging the hole in the backyard for the latrine. I believe there was even a photo competition ran about the privies in the backyard.

(Mental note: I’ll need to see if I can find the link to those photos to add them here.)

This leads me to the opening of what will be my next series in blog posts.

A group of fellow writers and myself have decided that it was time that we paid homage to the most important room in the house: the toilet. We are planning to put together an anthology later this year on this very topic. (Watch this space for the submission call soon.) In preparation for the anthology, I’ve been doing some research on the different names for the toilet.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I intend to share with you some of my research, enlightening us all with how the English language is a dynamic beast filled with humour.

Be advised that this series of posts contains material that will offend some readers. (It’s toilet humour. What do you expect?)

Let’s start with the boring stuff: what exactly is toilet humour? According to Wikipedia—the wonderful, occasionally accurate, internet resource—toilet humour, or scatological humour, is a type of off-colour humour dealing with defecation, urination, flatulence, and to a lesser extent vomiting and other bodily functions. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toilet_humour)
Based on that definition, for this series of posts, everything related to that littlest room in the house is open for discussion.

Common Everyday Names for the Toilet

There are so many names for the toilet out there, and some with some very interesting origins. Here are only a few:

  • Lavatory
    The term lavatory originates from the Middle English term lavatorie, Medieval Latin lavatorium, and Latin lavare meaning to wash. The term originally referred to a fixed bowl or basin with running water intended for cleaning.
    (Source: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lavatory)
  • Toilet
    This term stems from the Mid-16th century French word toilette, which means ‘cloth, wrapper’. This was originally a euphemism, referring to the early morning routine of preparing for the day by washing, combing hair and applying various potions. It did not originally include defecation. (Source: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/toilet)
  • Loo
    The origins of this word are not clear. Some suggest that it’s derived from the French term guardez l’eau, meaning ‘watch out for the water’, stemming from the days when citizens of large townships would throw the contents of chamber pots out the windows into the streets. Meanwhile, others suggest that the term is in honour of ‘Waterloo’, who manufactured iron cisterns for British outhouses in the early 20th century. However, my all time favourite theory, is that ‘loo’ is in honour of the fact that in many buildings the toilet was in Room 100. Regardless the origins, if someone asked you where the loo was, we all would know exactly what one is talking about. (Source: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/words/what-is-the-origin-of-the-word-loo)
  • WC
    This one was actually new to me, and it was a writing buddy that point this one out. WC is short for water closet, which as it turns out, is a common name used throughout parts of Europe for the public toilets.
  • Latrine
    This term I heard my father say most days growing up. It’s a common US Military term for any point-of-entry facility where human waste is disposed of, regardless of how modern the facility is. Originally it referred to something as simple as a trench dug in the earth. However, I think that many US Military men will be surprised to discover that the word is a derivation of the French word latrina. (Source: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/latrine)
  • Crapper
    This term is in reference to Thomas Crapper, who is mistakenly associated with the invention of the modern flushing toilet. It should be noted that the term crap, however, predates Mr Crapper. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Crapper)
  • Privy
    If you look this one up in a dictionary, you will find no reference to a toilet in the definition, yet, those in Britain use this term regularly. Privy actually means ‘to participate in something private or secret’. (Source: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/privy) While you can see how this term came to be used for the toilet, being a subject of discomfort for many, I do wonder if it is also meant to be a slander on politicians. Many countries, including my own, use a Privy Council as part of their governmental organisation.

Well this is only a small handful of names for the toilet. Over the course of the next few weeks, I will fill you in on some more.

If you know of any obscure name that I should be adding to my list, please let me know using the form below. This research into toilets is going to be an interesting journey.


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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2015

Posted in Humor, Toilet humor and tagged , .

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