What are Some Common Euphemisms for the Bathroom?

wiseGEEK Writer

In the 1940s novel Cheaper by the Dozen the eleven children often have to make various stops on road trips to “go visit Mrs. Murphy,” a polite euphemism for having to go the bathroom, related to early bathrooms called the murphy closet. One child invariably fails to go, and the children will soon be off to see Mrs. Murphy again, much to the infinite frustration of their efficiency expert father. Today, numbers of euphemisms abound for either the functions performed in the bathroom, or for simply being in a bathroom.

Half bathrooms are often referred to as "powder rooms".
Half bathrooms are often referred to as "powder rooms".

To go to the toilet is in fact a euphemism, most closely tied to the way ladies might say they need to “powder their noses.” Toilette is the entire ensemble of a ladies clothing, hair and makeup. To make or complete one’s toilette is to finish getting dressed. Thus toilet for bathroom was euphemistic, at first. As well, bathroom is euphemistic since it implies bathing rather than elimination.

"Bathroom" is actually euphemism since it refers to bathing, rather than waste elimination.
"Bathroom" is actually euphemism since it refers to bathing, rather than waste elimination.

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Now since we call the commode a toilet, it is not often referred to as such in polite company. Instead people may ask the direction of one’s restroom, or sometimes bathroom, implying they wish to rest or bathe. Neither bathroom nor restroom suggests that the room contains a place for people to complete the basic body functions of urination or defecation.

Since implying that one might actually need to use a toilet is quite vulgar, numerous other euphemisms exist to discuss the need to go to the bathroom. A common early term was W.C., a polite abbreviation for water closet. This term derives from early American and European indoor toilets, often called water closets.

In England the bathroom is most commonly referred to as the loo, and in Europe the expression Room 100 is used. Both Americans and Europeans might use the john, and those in the UK might use the jakes. Though now out of date, expressions like the necessarium, the necessary house, and the cloakroom were all once popular.

Today, in company, women might either “powder their noses” or visit the little girl’s room. Polite men might excuse themselves with no reason, so they can use the bathroom, or they might suggest they are going to the restroom. In fact, in many schools, children simply ask to be excused and do not refer to the bathroom in any way.

In other cases, children are taught to ask to use the lavatory, again suggesting one uses a bathroom for bathing. Lavatory and more commonly, the privy were used by members of the military.

Terms for the actual uses of the toilet abound. These tend to be more on the vulgar side, since they refer to actual body functions. To tinkle or water the lawn suggests urination. To do number one or two suggests exactly what one has done in the bathroom. One even sees reference to bowel movements now as BMs. Other euphemisms for bodily functions are now so common, most people can probably name five to ten of them. These euphemisms tend to be more vulgar in nature and do not bear repetition.

There are many terms for the actual use of the toilet.
There are many terms for the actual use of the toilet.

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Discussion Comments

anon953151

In the 2010 film "True Grit" Marshal Rooster Cogburn used the term, "The jakes is occupied!" This was the first time I have heard it called that.

anon241592

"The Jakes" was in common usage in England in the 16th century when it was regarded as vulgar. It has died out now as far as I know.

anon29990

"These euphemisms tend to be more vulgar in nature and do not bear repetition."

If they are "vulgar" then they are not, by definition, euphemisms.

Though "vulgar" is a moving target, as it changes constantly based upon current usage of the language.

anon29660

Men's or lady's room is commonly used, but my favorite is "the smallest room".

anon27544

Hello, I live in England and I have never heard the term 'the jakes'. I'm familiar with the use of 'john', but it wouldn't normally be used in polite company, and even 'loo' would only tend to be used among friends! Most people I think am robust enough to refer to it generally as the toilet, but 'Ladies' (as in Ladies' Room) or 'Gents' are perhaps more popular when excusing oneself, and cloakroom is still used sometimes too.

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