WUOMFM

Hey, close the door. We've got potty humor going on in here

Mar 22, 2015

"Even the most euphemistic terms we have for where the toilet is, can sometimes not feel quite euphemistic enough."

That's what University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan said on "That's What They Say." 

And it's true: We have lots of different names for the place where we perform that private function. 

"We've got privy, lavatory, rest room, bathroom, water closet – which you can call a W.C. – the toilet, the john – all these possibilities," Curzan says.

"The oldest of the terms is privy. That comes into English from Anglo-Norman-French, and is evidenced in English as early as the 13th century. It's related to privy in the sense of what information you're privileged to know," Curzan explains. "And it refers to private, so you can imagine how it comes to refer to the place where the toilet is."

Plenty of other wonderful names evolved from privy, Curzan says.

"Then you get the lavatory. That first shows up in English in the 14th century, coming in from Latin. Originally, it meant a vessel for washing. Then it comes to refer to the ritual washing of the celebrants' hands in the Christian church. And from there, we get the meaning of the place where you would have an apparatus for washing your hands, and also perhaps a toilet."

The modern meaning for toilet, the apparatus in the bathroom, goes back to the late 19th century. But it came into English from French, where "toilette" meant both the dressing table where a woman might get ready, or the kit for making yourself looking beautiful – for doing your hair and your make-up. From there, it comes to the dressing room, and then we get the bathroom, as well as the actual apparatus.

Curzan says "water closet" isn't something we hear in the U.S. very much. It goes back to the mid 18th century, and the abbreviation "W.C." came in by the early 19th century. 

"W.C. was perhaps not as euphemistic as the rest room, because we're not actually resting in the rest room. But historically, people did rest in the rest room, and that later came to refer what we call the bathroom."

Now, as for the under or over placement of the toilet paper roll, you'll have to settle that all on your own.