Here is a subject you won’t find in any detail in any of your textbooks. It’s strange really if you consider that each and every one of us does this at least once or twice a day. Yet many people, and the English in particular, are rather embarrassed when talking about going to the toilet. The English, being somewhat reluctant to admit that that they do go to the toilet, have invented many expressions to sanitise this rather natural bodily function. Perhaps it is this embarrassment about our natural bodily functions that makes toilet humour so popular in Hollywood movies and for standup comedians. But this is not a modern phenomenon, this aversion to accept our body’s natural processes. Around 1781 Benjamin Franklin wrote an essay entitled, Fart Proudly, in which he suggested to the Royal Academy of Brussels that research ought to be undertaken to improve the odour of the human fart. Raucously funny, the essay has nevertheless been excluded from most published collections of Franklin’s writings.
Let’s take a look at some of this vocabulary that you won’t easily find elsewhere. When I was in the military I once told our appalling army chef that he was a genius. He was a genius, I told him, because it took the human body 24 hours to turn good food into shit, whereas he could do it in a matter of minutes. And that’s basically what our bodies do, isn’t it? We fill our stomachs with food and drink and thus begin a process whereby our bodies remove everything useful from the food by digestion and excrete the waste products. There are two types of waste products produced by the body. There is solid waste produced by the bowels or intestines, and there is liquid waste produced by the kidneys and stored in the bladder.
We’ll have a look at the liquid waste first. Your kidneys act as filters, filtering your blood and extracting the things your body doesn’t need. This waste material is stored in the bladder and its technical name is urine. Other nouns for urine are pee, piddle, piss and wee. Children use the term wee-wee. The verbs used to describe how we rid ourselves of urine are many and varied. The technical term is urination. If your bladder is full and you desperately need to urinate, you can say that you are bursting.
‘I’m bursting! I’m bursting for a pee! I’m bursting for a wee!’
You can also say: ‘I need to empty my bladder.’ or ‘I need to take a leak.’
For reasons unknown to me when men take a leak, they can say ‘I need a slash.’ slash being a male only term for urination.
‘I’m going to have a slash! I’ve just been for a slash! If you’ve had a slash, you should wash your hands.’
Women may well say that they are going to pass water, and children are told to go for a tinkle. And when someone is accused of taking the piss they are not collecting urine like the ancient Romans used to do to sell to the fullers for cleaning wool and other things. To take the piss is to make fun of someone.
And now let’s take a look, metaphorically speaking, at the solid waste that our bodies produce. If you are not constipated, you excrete solid waste daily. As there are 7 billion of us now, that’s a lot of waste every day! Go to your doctor, possibly to relieve your constipation, and your doctor will use terms like, bowel movement, defecation, evacuation of the bowels, and the passing of stools, so as not to offend. Mind you if I passed a stool, I’d be pretty well offended, or at least my bottom would be. Your doctor is not going to ask you how many times you have a crap, or take a dump. Such terms are normally heard among friends at work or in the pub. If you have diarrhoea, the doctor is likely to ask you if your stools or motions are loose. Those of a more polite disposition are more likely to use the term poo, as in ‘I’m going for a poo.’ This poo should not be confused with the furry Pooh that A. A. Milne created. Countless children however have sniggered at the humorous connection between poo and Winnie-the-Pooh. And there are times when you just have to excuse yourself in order to go to the toilet and answer the call of nature. So what terms can you use in English to do so? Well, you could say, if you’re a woman, ‘I need to powder my nose.’ You can also, regardless of gender, announce that you need to spend a penny. To spend a penny comes from the days when public toilets used to cost a penny to use. And there’s an amusing little rhyme that Benjamin Franklin would have appreciated:
‘Here I sit,
paid a penny,
but only farted!’
And if someone tells you they have just taken the dog to the bathroom, they mean they took it outside so that it could relieve itself having been caught short.
There are other words, like bathroom, that we use to hide the fact that we are going to the toilet, too. A toilet can be called karzie as in ‘I’m off to the karzie.’ It’s also known as the bog. ‘I’m on the bog!’ Don’t use the term, bog, if you are in polite company. Prefer the term ‘lavatory’. Lavatory is often shortened to ‘lav’ or ‘lavvy’. Then there is the Old English term, privy, which is another term for latrine.
There is a legend that the term, WC, which is another term for toilet, comes from the initials of a very aptly named Victorian plumber, Thomas Crapper. WC actually stands for water closet. The word ‘crap’ is actually of Middle English origin and predates Mr Crapper by hundreds of years. While Crapper popularised sanitary plumbing, the modern flush toilet had actually been invented by John Harrington as early as 1596. Queen Elizabeth I, Harrington’s godmother, refused to use his toilet as it made too much noise. The British were centuries behind many civilisations, however, some of which, like the Minoans and the Romans, had been using flush toilets thousands of years before Queen Elizabeth refused to use hers. Americans have the terms ‘can’ and ‘john’, while the British, who still have a monarchy, use ‘throne’ as a pseudonym for the toilet. ‘Loo’ is also popular among the British.
‘Can you tell me where the loo is, please?’
And now that you’ve watched the video and read the transcript let’s collect the toilet vocabulary from the text.
1. Different words for toilet: lavatory, lav, lavvy, karzie, bog, can, john, throne, loo
2. If you want to go to the toilet, you can say: I have to powder my nose, I’m off to the karzie, I would like to go to the loo, I need to spend a penny, I need to go to the bathroom, I need to answer the call of nature, I need to relieve myself.
3. If you need to urinate, you can say: I’m bursting! I’m bursting for a pee! I’m bursting for a wee!, I need to empty my bladder., I need to take a leak., I need a slash.
4. to urinate with different words: to pee, to wee, to wee-wee, to piddle, to piss, to pass water, to go for a tinkle
5. Different words for solid human waste: stool, poo, crap, dump
6. Words for excreting solid waste: to poo, to have a crap, to take a dump, to go for a poo, to pass stools