Recently, I enjoyed a movie night with my family, watching the 1986 film Short Circuit. I remember going to see this film when it first came out in the cinema. It is filled with humour that all can enjoy. (My dad’s favourite line is, “Great Software.” He’s a computer geek.)
Anyway, I have seen this film many times over the years, but I never realised how much toilet humour peppered its lines. One joke in particular I just now understand, and it’s only because of my research into the names for toilet.
Near the beginning of the film, Ben is attempting to encourage Newton to attend a reception with military brass. At one point, Ben, an Indian character, says, “I need to go to the Jacks.” Newton responds with, “John.”
All these years, I thought it was a slight on Indians and their lack of colloquial English. Now I know that this was the screenwriter’s cleaver use of vocabulary not understood by American audiences.
With that being said, it is time to educate my readers of some more names for the toilet.
- Big White Telephone / The Porcelain Telephone
How many of you have called Ralph on the Big White Telephone? I know I’ve done it once or twice. Apparently those in Finland have a saying, Soittaa posliinipuhelimella Norjaan, which roughly translates to ‘call Norway with a telephone made of porcelain’.
I don't know about anyone else, but when I hear the term cloakroom, I envision a place where I can go to hang up my jacket, not a toilet. Even if I look this one up on Wikipedia, that is exactly the definition I get. So why on Earth would someone call a toilet the cloakroom? It turns out that this is a British thing. The Ladies' Cloakroom in some places actually has a toilet.
- Earth Closet
Before the invention of a flushing toilet came the Earth Closet. Still used today in national parks throughout the world, these are composting toilets that use little to no water. The human waste is mixed with sawdust, peat moss or some other liquid absorbing material and the waste is allowed to break down naturally. Personally, I call them dry vaults, or long drops.
- House of Office
This was common name for the toilet in 17th century England.
This is a Northern English term, originally referring to an earth closet.
In my local area, if you went to the mall information desk and asked where the pool was, they would direct you out of the mall and across the street to the public swimming centre. This name is just beyond my understanding.
- Porcelain God
It is not unheard of for people to bow down before the Porcelain God. On occasion, the worshippers vow to the god never to drink again.
- Reading Room
As a writer, this one actually annoys me. I'm offended by the idea that someone might actually take something that I spent many long hours writing and editing to the toilet to read. Never mind, it also annoys me how you occasionally find a GameBoy resting in the room next to you. I know it sometimes takes time to do our business, but reading only prolongs the agony of those bouncing up and down outside the door, desperate to go pee.
- Room 100
When I first heard this name, I was completely bamboozled about why a toilet might be called this, until I did the research. Apparently, throughout Britain, in high-rise buildings, the toilet is installed in the room that ends with '00' on each floor. With this knowledge in hand, the name Room 100 makes perfect sense.
Some suggest that the origins of this name come from the middle ages, where only powerful rulers had what we would consider a toilet. There were isolated rooms in the castle where only the master of the premises had access. Only the king could sit on his throne. However, it is more likely that this comes from some writer poking fun at the monarch, stating that they have gone to sit on their throne to do something incredibly important.
So many names for something that we all use. No wonder we often have no clue what the other is saying and scenes like that found in Short Circuit are so funny when you actually understand the reference.