Submitted by Hairy Scot on January 28, 2012

The Best Euphemism for Shithouse?

What is the best euphemism for shithouse and/or urinal? I always feel that words like lavatory, toilet, privy, or rest room, don’t quite hack it. Perhaps “the head” or heads may be about the best. No prizes for the winner.

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@Percy
I’m glad that that’s all you’re sceptical about, as I was beginning to get the impression that you were being pretty sceptical of everything I’ve put forward in this discussion. But never mind that. As you have now found it in the hallowed pages of the OED, I assume you have least tacitly accepted that the practice did exist, or apparently not. I wonder why publications like Merriam-Webster don't seem to share your scepticism.

Anyway, let’s try and dispel these remaining doubts.

Firstly, “gardyloo” was a slang word of the streets; the references in the OED are all from literature. Just because there are no earlier references in published works doesn’t necessarily tell us very much about whether certain street cries existed or not.

Secondly, language and social mores didn’t change so quickly in those days. And it seems strange that a mangled form of a French expression would suddenly appear two hundred years after the peak period of French influence. It is well documented that other French words entered Scots at that time, or they all "genteelisms" as well?

Here are a few references from Google Books. First, this is from the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquities of Scotland, published in 1862:

“… so soon as St.Giles’ clock struck ten, the windows were simultaneously opened for a general discharge, (which in 1745 must have rather alarmed Prince Charles' followers, when they had possession of the town), and the streets and closes resounded with one universal cry, Gardyloo!”

So one writer, at least, thought that it went back at least to 1745.

http://books.google.pl/books?id=y1kJAAAAIAAJ&am...

You mention the following quote from The Heart of Midlothian, by Sir Walter Scott:

“... she had made the gardyloo out of the wrang window, out of respect for twa Highlandmen that were speaking Gaelic in the close below the right ane.”.

The Heart of Midlothian was set against the backdrop of the Porteous riots of 1736, so Scott must have thought it was a realistic bet to place it that early.

http://books.google.pl/books?id=1OgZAQAAMAAJ&am...

This is from the Atlantic Monthly of 1849:

“French allies brought some words into Scotland that have rooted themselves, like the gardyloo.“

The Auld Alliance came to an end in 1560 with the Treaty of Berwick, and there wouldn't have been any French allies in Scotland after that time, so this writer is putting the use of the word gardyloo before 1560.

http://books.google.pl/books?id=QqxIAAAAcAAJ&am...

And then there’s this from George Robert Glieg’s The Life of Sir Thomas Munro, 1849. Glieg is quoting from a letter from Munro to his sister, where for some strange reason he thinks newborn babies will be thrown away:

“In towns where there is no river at hand, Edinburgh for instance, the cry of Gardyloo will probably be followed by a babe, instead of the accompaniment which Queen Mary introduced from France.”

Queen Mary could refer to Mary Queen of Scots, but is more likely to refer to Mary of Guise, who married James V in 1538, and was Regent of Scotland from 1554 until her death in 1560.

http://books.google.pl/books?id=c3IBAAAAQAAJ&am...

“During her regency (1554–60), Frenchmen were put in charge of the treasury, the Great Seal, and the French ambassador sometimes attended the Privy Council.” (Wikipedia)

And finally something from a modern history book, The Isles: A History, by Norman Davies (1999). He’s talking about James VI, later to become James I of England:

“James’s French connections were strong and intimate. His mother had been Queen of France, and the Scottish court was still under the influence of the Auld Alliance. James spoke French fluently, as many of his courtiers did.”

These of course prove nothing, but at least show that it was not uncommon in the middle of the nineteenth century to think that gardyloo had come into Scottish use with the arrival of Mary and her French followers. And that the strength of the French influence at the time is recognised just as much by modern historians.

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What I am sceptical about is the suggestion of an early origin for the Edinburgh gardyloo.

The OED does not seem to know of it before the late 18th century. I think it might be more of a genteelism than a genuine example of French influence on Scots.

[1768 L. Sterne Sentimental Journey II. 135 It comes against you without crying garde d'eau.]
1771 T. Smollett Humphry Clinker II. 227 The whole cargo is flung out of a back window..and the maid calls gardy loo to the passengers.
1808 J. Jamieson Etymol. Dict. Sc. Lang., Jordeloo.
1818 Scott Heart of Mid-Lothian ii, in Tales of my Landlord 2nd Ser. III. 44 She had made the gardy-loo out of the wrang window.

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@Percy
1. I've conceded at least twice that gardyloo is probably not the source of "loo". But I wasn't the only one to have thought that:

http://www.google.pl/books?id=m1UKpE4YEkEC&...

2. No, it probably wasn't used much later than the 18th century, for the reasons I gave, but it's an expression that many Edinburgh people, of which I'm one, know today; it's part of our history. And gardyloo was an anglicisation of a French expression, I don't know if the French actually used it. I would have thought alleged was rather a loaded word, especially for something that is well documented, and in several dictionaries:

http://www.onelook.com/?loc=rescb&refclue=c...
http://www.merriam-webster.com/top-ten-lists/to...

"Residents often threw refuse out of windows at night onto the streets. A commentator observed that, 'One never knew the moment when the warning cry 'Gardyloo'... might ring out, following which would come in quick succession an avalanche of unmentionable filth on to the footpath – or the passer-by.'" — Jonathan Yeager, Enlightened Evangelicalism: The Life and Thought of John Erskine, 2011 - John Erskine 1721–1803 studied Edinburgh and later lived there from 1758 til his death.

http://www.google.pl/books?id=UWS07GWAPMgC&...

"And we all know what a person might hear in the streets and wynds of Edinburgh not so long ago, warning them to dodge out of the way of something flung out of a window: gardyloo, from garde à l'eau!" - this has quite a bit about the French influence on Scotland and Scots.

http://www.scotslanguage.com/books/view/2/541

""Gardyloo!! That wis the cry ye wid hear aw ower Auld Reekie, ten o'clock at nicht an' six in the mornin. They were the twa times ye were allowed tae chuck yer refuse oot the windae doon intae the close, aw that ye couldnae burn. I" - this is admittedly modern

http://www.scotslanguage.com/blogs/all/2120

3. It seems that you're right that "dinna fash yersel" can also be heard in the North East, and as to its provenance. Northumbria and Tyneside seem to share quite a lot of words with Scots; Edinburgh was after all once part of the Kingdom of Northumbria, before Scotland or England became kingdoms themselves. But in Scotland it's certainly thought of as Scots, and I heard it quite a lot in my youth.

"Fash has altered little in meaning over the centuries and is found in northern English dialects as well as Scots.... Fash is recorded in Scottish sources from the sixteenth century onwards and is borrowed from the medieval French verb 'fascher'."

http://www.scotslanguage.com/articles/words/576
http://books.google.pl/books?id=HI6Kxa_WtvYC&am...

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@WW Sorry. I sounded a bit grumpy there.

Actually I am a Northumbrian and am familiar with several of the words you mention there. Dinna fash yersel I think is more typically NE English than contemporary Scots. Griffiths Dictionary of NE Dialect suggests OFr fascher as the root.

There is no doubt about the influence of French on both English and Scots, but gardyloo is not so much influence as an alleged example of the use of a French expression. What is the evidence that it was actually used in Edinburgh?

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So what this boils down to is that between the mid 17th and mid 18th centuries 'gardyloo' was a warning cry in Edinburgh. No earlier. No later. And no connection with WCs.

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@Percy - I was joking about you being Northumbrian. For much of the time of the troubles between England and Scotland, the Percies were the most powerful family in Norhumbria and the bane of Scots on the other side of the border, especially their chief enemies, the Douglasses.

It wasn't simply a matter of a couple of French royals, but of a heavy influence on the government and 'society' of Scotland. The "Auld alliance" with France against the "auld enemy" England lasted for some four centuries, and the Hanovarians, as far as I'm aware, didn't bring their whole court over with them.

You are no doubt aware that Scotland has a different legal system from England, and this has some similarities to French and Continental law. We have, for example, advocates (avocat) instead of barristers.

This later influence of French in Scots is well known among language historians. Here are a few more French words adopted into Scots, after the two main periods of adoption into English (11th and 14-15th centuries):

ashet - large oval dish - assiette
bonny - pretty - bon
caddie - in golf - cadet
corbie - raven - corbeau
gigot - leg of lamb - gigot
gushet - opening - guichet
stank - drain - étang
tassie - cup - tasse

and my favourite:
dinna fash yersel - don't get your knickers in a twist - se fâcher - to get annoyed

and in stereotypical Morningside (Jean Brodie territory) you might hear - Would you like a suspicion of sugar in your tea - a direct translation of soupçon

As I said before, the provenance of gardyloo is well attested. The probable reason gardyloo was limited to Edinburgh and to a particular time, is that the Old Town in Edinburgh was one of the first European cities to have "high rise" tenement blocks, where all classes lived on top of each other, before they started to build the New Town in the second half of the eighteenth century. The word tenement, which is used much more in Scotland than in England, is itself of French origin.

But as I also said before, I no longer put forward gardyloo as the source of "loo", although googling around, I've found others who had jumped to the same conclusion.

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Other possibilities, I see belatedly, are 'petits cotes' (with accent) and 'petites gastelles'.

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In fact, the contribution of French to Scottish English would make an interesting thread in its own right. There is 'petticoat tails' from 'petits gateaux', for example and 'fash' - as in 'dinna fash yesel - from the French 'facher'. Yes, I know there's a circumflex...

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@WW Northumbrian indeed. I am not sure a couple of French speaking royals would have led to slops-servants shouting warnings in French to passers-by a century later. There was probably more German influence in Hanoverian England, but it doesn't seem to have had much influence on the lingo.

In any case the warning - as you say - seems to have been confined to Edinburgh, to the 17th century, and not to have had any connection (indeed the opposite) with water closets.

Mind you using Waterloo instead of waterclo' and then 'loo instead of 'clo still has a French reference.

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@Percy, with a famous Northumbrian name like yours, I'm surprised at you! We had a French queen consort, Mary de Guise,whose daughter Mary, Queen of Scots, spent much of her childhood in France and as result there was a very strong French influence on the Scottish court in the middle of the Sixteenth century.

"From 1554, Marie de Guise, took over the regency, and continued to advance French interests in Scotland. French cultural influence resulted in a large influx of French vocabulary into Scots." Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Scotland

@Skeeter Lewis - I was so disappointed when I discovered that that "POSH" story was a myth; it used to be one of my 'not many people know' stories.

But '"gardyloo" doesn't seem to fall into that category. It's well attested to, and in several dictionaries as -" An old cry in throwing water, slops, etc., from the windows in Edinburgh." or some such like. But I got the French etymology slightly wrong, it was apparently "Gare de l'eau!". The interesting thing is that the use seems to have been confined to Edinburgh.

- http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gardyloo

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'Gardez l'eau' may be a popular etymology like 'Port Out Starboard Home'.

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Why would 16th century Scotsmen shout a warning in French? Unless, of course, they didn't want it to be understood.

The OED doesn't seem to know any examples before the 1930s.

I suggest the similarity in appearance between 'Waterloo' and 'water-closet' led to the joke substitution of the ending of the former for that of the latter.

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Hi jayles, you're quite possibly right, according to Etymology Online. You mean it's like Cockney rhyming slang in reverse (without the rhyme)?

Your other two examples play on the rhyme of the missing word at the end - tat = hat, and hook = look - whereas with (water)loo from water closet, we need to know the missing word at the beginning, but there's no rhyme involved.

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I always thought "loo" came from "waterloo" from "water closet"; much in the same way as words like "titfer" and "take a butcher's"....

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When I was young, loo was pretty upper-class, but then got used on TV quite a lot, and seems to have now become more or less universal.

I'd always assumed it came from l'eau - French for water. My reasoning being that in sixteenth century Edinburgh, there were tall tenement blocks without sanitation, and people used to throw their waste water out of the window. Before doing so they'd shout "Gardyloo", a corruption of "Gardez l'eau", i.e."Look out, water". But Etymology Online seems to support what Brus and Skeeter Lewis have said, so I'll have to give up my theory, I suppose.

And Skeeter Lewis is quite right. When I was young, we weren't allowed to say "toilet", and had to say "lavatory" instead. But they're both just as euphemistic. At school it was the bog (or the bogs for the public ones).

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Most terms in 'polite' use are euphemisms - restroom, bathroom, public conveniences, lavatory, toilet - even latrine, which is also to do with washing. Other people's euphemisms always seem more ludicrous than one's own.
'Loo', I think, is an attempt at humour based on 'Waterloo'.

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living in country victoria, australia, we call it 'toilet' as mostly we have toilets separate from the bathroom. People who are "sophisticated' call it a bathroom! causing some confusion as, when asked, they are directed to the bathroom! In our house hold it is commonly referred to as the dunny, though strickly speaking this is a bit course. It is also known as a loo, also a bit course. powder room, restroom & john are also used but not often. Ladies and Gents are used often for public areas. My favourite is still the dunny! as it is very australian.

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I remember an American newspaper article explaining that what Americans call the 'John' is known as the 'Claude' in Britain.

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I grew up with a wiseacre who called it the defecatorium -- sure to raise eybrows.

My girlfriend in high school called it the, "tinkletower." First and last time I heard that one.

The best euphemism is 'euphemism' itself. As in this...

"Honey, the young woman guest at the nightmare dinner party in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, says she would like to powder her nose. George, the host, turns to his wife and says, "Martha, won't you show her where we keep the euphemism?"

http://www.robertfulford.com/Euphemisms.html

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In America we say "restroom," which had some visiting Swedish friends in hysterics, as they pictured us going there to rest. But I thought the question was about a real outhouse, a separate place away from the house. That's the smelly phone booth.

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I like the term "Excretorium".

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Urination Station

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Brus, DerekH is NOT correct in saying that in the US it is considered less "ladylike or refined" to say "loo" instead of crapper or shithouse. That must have been a joke.

Usually what people want to do is suggest that there might be some other reason for going to the restroom besides taking a smelly dump or changing out a tampon, especially in a polite social situation. So we choose a wording that leaves open the possibility that one wants to just wash the hands.

"Ladies room" or "men's room" is commonly used. Likewise, "the facilities". You don't even have to mention the "room" itself. I like to say, "I'll be right back-- I'm going to go freshen up" or even "I need to go powder my nose". Since I'm a guy, it gets people chuckling and thinking about something other than me urinating or wiping my ass.

I think this is why women like to go to the toilet in pairs especially when men are around. They think the men might believe that they're just going to chat or do make-up.

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How about simply " The Men's/Gents' " or " The Ladies "

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@Porsche

You are easily confused, and obviously somewhat lacking in the humour department.

But I will endeavour to clarify my question.
Not all houses have rooms which combine a bath/shower with the sanitary appliances need to dispose of human waste. In lots of cases these are separate, and in bygone days were commonly outside of the main building.
In the case of public facilities, these are custom edifices which house multiple sanitary appliances.
The terms bathroom, toilet, and even lavatory describe rooms which contain a bath/shower/wash basin, but not necessarily the waste disposal items, and are in effect a bit of a misnomer when used to describe rooms containing such items since the root of all three words imply washing or cleansing.
I was looking for the best, perhaps most humourous euphemism for shithouse or urinal.
One does not jusr say things like, "Excuse me, I'm off for a crap." Or perhaps you do.
such

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Hairy Scot, to be honest, I'm a little confused by your original question. From my perspective, a shithouse, non-euphemistically, can only be thought of as an outhouse, a small stand-alone building. A urinal is an actual bathroom fixture into which one only urinates (or, I suppose, technically, a building that houses one, but I've never heard this spoken). Neither of these is routinely referred to as a bathroom, head, lavatory, toilet, rest room, john, library, reading room, loo, little boys' / girls' room, privy, smallest room in the house, necessarium, sandbox, etc.

Are you specifically asking for euphemisms for shithouse and/or urinal, or are you asking for euphemisms for bathrooms in general?

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I'm from the U.S. Specifically, the mid west and I've never heard anyone refer to it as "the loo" in a serious manner. I know that it is common for people to call out "the shitter" or " the crapper" when they're engaged in some form of male bonding in an attempt to sound manly. Typically, mist children and teenagers say "bathroom" while most adults call it the "restroom".

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@Brus @HairyScot
Scots expat in Oregon USA. Cludgie is my favourite. I can't stand it when Bearsden lads try to sound hip using "bogs."

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@Brus- "loo" is often seen around here (eastern Kansas/KC Metro) as a conscious effort by the speaker to affect Britishness or appear eccentric. In my experience, it's referred to pretty evenly as either "restroom" or "bathroom" in polite or professional company; never "Water Closet" or "WC". We get enough culture from The Isles to know what it means, though.
Among friends or otherwise engaged in leisure, it varies widely- "shitter", "toilet", perhaps a terse "hold on, gotta pee" or something making light of it, such as "I am going to wreck your crapper" (a personal favorite) . I've taken to ironically referring to it as a "terlit", aping a Midwestern rural accent. The more alcohol that passes my lips, the more I find the irony wanes.

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Why not just say "can"

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Heather, IMO, bathroom is no funnier than restroom. I know when I go a public bathroom or restroom, I don't bathe or rest... it's all business!

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When your little growing up at home (in america and in my case) parents refer to it as bathroom, why di you say well because it is the room of the hoise that contains the bath! So just being so used yo calling the room with the toilet a bathroom and not thinking twice about itits definetely a funny term like when at school or a restraunt there is no bath (most likely) in the room! So yes if u come from a diffrent country public places do post restroom signs on the "bathroom" doors

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Brus, are you sure that American pupil wasn't Canadian? 'Bathroom' is the common term used here in Canada. In my frequent visits to the US, I have noticed that 'restroom' is the prevalent term there.

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Derek says that in the US the expression "the loo" is considered less refined and ladylike than "the shitter" or "the crapper"? What does this tell us about American ladies, or should I say 'dames'?

An American pupil of mine at school in the UK went to "the bathroom" every lesson, sometimes twice, and was considered the cleanest girl in the class. Didn't say much for my lessons, though.

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W.C. (water closet), porcelain throne, shitter/crapper, john...

Of course, there's also the distinction between the facility and the actual toilet itself...

And, in the U.S., "the loo" would be considered considerably less refined and ladylike.

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@Brus
Are the blanks in your final sentence intentional or editorial?
Would be interested to know what we've missed.
:)

Both lavatory and toilet, based on their derivations, are probably more in line with washroom or bathroom, ie: a place where one cleans up.
Another favourite I recall from my native land is "cludgie".

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At the school in Scotland I attended as a youth, one large, 19th C set of gentlemen's facilities there was known officially as "The House of Lords". But this name was just for that particular place, not for use elsewhere. In Britain these days the term "toilet" is bandied about a great deal, but nearly always without the final "t": toile' with an ugly final glottal stop is the term employed by those Britons who favour this word, so pronounced "Toy-luh' (momentary silence while mouth remains hanging open and eyes continue to glaze over)".
'Lavatory' is preferred by the more refined. "Lavvy" is intended to be a humorous variant. 'Loo' is very ladylike, being a corruption of the French lieu="place". "Bog" is favoured by otherwise well-spoken schoolboys anxious to establish some street-cred. "Heads" is navy, "latrine" American.
You would think we would just call the by its proper name, would you not? The

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Down South here we call it an outhouse. In Alaska I understand that a lot of people (I'm talking 30 years ago) didn't have what we would call pumping - so they used a 'honeybucket'.

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Jakes

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I call my shithouse my 'log cabin'. The urinal is the well.

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