Lauren Krueger & Matthew David Brozik

Where to go to the bathroom.

In Definally on November 18, 2011 at 10:00 am

Lori N. asks whether it isn’t stupid and wrong and stupid to use the expression “go to the bathroom” to describe any activity that doesn’t involve actually going to a bathroom.

Yes. Yes, it is. You can’t go to the bathroom in, say, the woods. And we don’t mean at the ranger station. We mean in the woods.

“Go to the bathroom” has, obviously, become a euphemism for the principal activity in which one engages in a bathroom. Or does it? Definally. thinks the larger problem here is what to call the room where one “goes to the bathroom,” so to speak. Because, when you think about it, the principal activity for a bathroom should be bathing.

Off the top of our heads, Definally. can think of seven different terms (in current American use) for the room in question. Each, however, has its shortcomings:

(1) Bathroom. If the room has no bath, then this word really just doesn’t apply.

(2) Washroom. Similarly, the implication of washroom is that the principal relevant activity is washing. While washing is a commendable activity, it isn’t typically the reason for visiting the room at issue. That said, washroom is not a bad option at all.

(3) Lavatory. Lavatory comes from the late Latin lavatorium, a “place for washing,” and originally denoted not a room but a tub or basin. If you’re going to say lavatory, then, you might as well say washroom, especially if you mean a room (and not a tub or basin).

(4) Toilet. Although these days, in English, we call the bodily-waste receptacle a “toilet,” the path taken by the word to arrive there is both long and winding. Four hundred years ago, the French toilette meant a small cloth or wrapper (for clothes); three hundred years ago it referred to a cloth cover for a dressing table… the clothing itself… and even the process of getting dressed; later the definition included washing oneself; a hundred years ago toilet came to mean a dressing room… and in many cases one with facilities for washing—that is, a lavatory. The problem, then, is that while toilet might have been the perfect word for the job, it has become too specific, at least in the United States. Because what if you want to go to the room where the toilet is, but you don’t want to use the toilet?

(5/6) In a restaurant, or any other place where there are separate facilities for men and women, there’s no problem at all. One says, “I’m just going to pop in to the (wo)men’s room.” Simple. That takes care of everything! Unfortunately, most homes do not have separate rooms for the different sexes.

(7) Restroom is just dumb. Unless you’re going to there to rest. If you are, and you plan to curl up in the tub, call it the bathroom.

So, after all of that, Definally. prefers washroom. Here’s why: No matter what you do in a room where there is or is not a toilet, bathtub, dressing table, or place for resting… there will be a sink and you should, without question, wash at least your hands before you reëmerge. Whether you’re an employee or not.

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  1. I like “WC,” water closet.

  2. I often go there to rest. I have three kids. If I could curl up in the bathtub to sleep, I would.

  3. How about “Facilities,” which you referenced in your article?
    Too technical, or just not common enough, perhaps?

    Regardless, I’m going to remain current with the media and go Occupy the Facilities.
    I am the 100%.

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