Let’s Talk About Lavatory Slang and Toilet History in Chattanooga, TN!

November 5, 2019

Toilets—you use them, but how much do you really know about them? To find out, let’s talk toilet history in Chattanooga, TN. Specifically, let’s find out where some of the most well-known lavatory slang originated and what it all means.

The crapper

Yes, we’re going to start here. In 1836, Thomas Crapper was born. Years later he would be credited with the invention of the flushable toilet. But a fellow by the name of Nick Valéry claims that the recognition actually goes to Alexander Cummings, a watchmaker. According to Valéry, Cummings procured the first patent for a flush toilet in 1775, more than 60 years before Crapper was even born. There seems to be some debate over whether the term “crapper” truly comes from Crapper’s name being printed on his plumbing products. Regardless, it’s a term you’re likely to encounter when conversation turns to the toilet!

Privy and potty

“Privy” is one of the oldest words used to refer to the bathroom. The Oxford English Dictionary includes a citation from as early as 1225, and the word is believed to come from the Old French word “privé.” In French, this means “intimate friendly or private place.” Here’s the thing, though: privies were often outside, and therefore not friendly in most people’s books. Since relieving oneself outside wasn’t always possible or desired, people would use chamber pots instead. A chamber pot was sometimes referred to as a “potty” for users of all ages.

Little house to outhouse

Most people know what an outhouse is, regardless of whether or not they’ve actually used one before. Sometime in 1579, the euphemism “little house” came onto the scene. This referred to a small room or building used as a toilet, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. They often did not have plumbing and were situated outside buildings designated as living quarters. It wasn’t until around 1819 that the word “outhouse” started to be used in American English.

The head and John

In the early 18th century, sailors referred to using the latrine as hitting the head, or simply “head.” Back then, latrines on ships were located in the bow, or the head, hence the use of the term. It wasn’t until 1735 or thereabouts that “John” came into bathroom vocabulary. There’s speculation that around this time, this term came about when a Harvard University publication referred to the men’s restroom as a “cuzjohn,” which is short for “cousin John.”

Other toilet slang

“Water closet” is a phrase dating to 1736, while “earth closet” appeared in 1863. An earth closet is a lavatory that uses dirt to cover waste, but the slang term for an earth closet is “dunny,” likely hailing from an Australian convict term. It wasn’t until 1780 that the word “bathroom” came into the picture. Saying you have to visit the bathroom is generally seen as a polite way of saying you need to use the toilet.

We hope you enjoyed this brief toilet history. For more information about portable toilets in Chattanooga, TN, or to rent one for an event, reach out to Pit Stop Portables today!

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