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The room where everyone goes

It is sometimes referred to as “the smallest room of the house,” though that description may no longer apply. One can see in the glossy magazines photographs of bathrooms done up on a scale and to a degree that Caracalla might have found a bit showy.

Despite a universal familiarity with the place, we somehow lack a fully satisfactory term for daily use.

We call it the bathroom, though we are not necessarily headed there to bathe. Moreover, many of those rooms lack tubs and showers. Restroom can’t be right. No one rests there, except perhaps the women for whom couches are provided as they endure Aunt Flo’s monthly visits. Besides, whenever I hear restroom, I have an unavoidable association with one of Bill Dana’s irritating Jose Jimenez routines in which he confuses restroom with rostrum. We are blessedly out of the 1950s, so perhaps powder room will fade away as well.

Toilet originally identified a cloth used as a wrapper for clothes (toilette), then the cloth covering a dressing table, then the articles used in dressing, then the actions of washing and dressing, and now the bowl for depositing waste or the room in which the plumbing fixture is located. The word’s elegance has vanished.

The john, for reasons I shan’t belabor, is beneath consideration. I usually mention going to the gents’, and the ladies’ is equally serviceable, but we have progressed into an age of unisex facilities. I like loo — monosyllable, neutral, free from unfortunate associations — but it’s British, as are water closet and W.C. Lavatory sounds prissy. Latrine is military. Head is nautical. Potty is childish.

Coy euphemisms — little boys’ room, little girls’ room, throne — will not do for adults. (I recall from childhood that on my mother’s side of the family the chamber pot or slop jar was sometimes jocularly referred to as the thunder mug.)

I suppose that falling back on loo would be the least objectionable choice. I wish that this post could offer you a more satisfactory resolution of the matter, but I have to go see a man about a dog.

Posted by John McIntyre at 2:03 PM | | Comments (28)


I like "the gentlemen's lounge," myself.

The "lav" because it *sounds* less British than the "loo".

I'm not sure what's supposed to be childish about throne or throne room. I'll often speak of going to meditate or taking a short trip off a long pier.

My personal favorite, borrowed from a friend: "I have to go use the euphemism."

(Regrettably, verbing that noun doesn't work terribly well, as "euphemize" sounds too much like "euthanize", leading to significant confusion.)

Somewhere - perhaps in a restaurant with a nautical theme - was the Necessary Room

One I've never used in conversation despite some temptation (may I never surrender): take the Browns to the Super Bowl. Maybe that is really only funny here in Ohio.

I'm less troubled by the term bathroom than you are; when I cannot avoid the mention of the room, I will usually just choose the most rhetorically invisible way, and "in the bathroom" does that admirably regardless of precision.

I think loo seems to be the most socially mobile of the options on offer -- understood by everyone (well, here in New Zealand at least) and offensive to no-one, used by almost everyone, and not at all coy. A couple of others to consider:I lived for a while in the Philippines where the equivalently bog-standard (sorry!) term was 'the CR'. I was relieved to learn that it stood for comfort room,which I like for its accuracy. And how about the Scots 'cludgie' (mainly used of communal or public facilities, I gather)?

The word bathroom has become dissociated from the room's use, in much the same way that I might go to my bedroom without using the bed (though the bed is always there, unlike the bath in the bathroom). Or I might leave the living room and not expect to die forthwith.

Loo is a mild and useful term. Is there really a problem with its being British? Why not adopt it for US English? It would save you having to use a roundabout euphemism in lieu.

When in the airport in Paris I asked the security person "Ou est la salle de bain?" I thought my French would please him. Instead he looked at me like I was wacky. After several other futile attempts, he finally got the idea and pointed to the "toilette." I guess people don't take baths in French airports.


I've heard "facilities" used but it makes it sound as if you're going to the boiler room.

How about King's X Room. It the room in the house where you're least likely to be bothered, and when you emerge from it you're unlikely to be asked what you were doing. Already many people call a toilet the throne.

Perhaps you should refer to it in honor of the marketer of the Silent Valveless Water Waste Preventer.

We used "toilet" in Turkey--and everyone understood it!

Someone broke into the police station and stole all of the bathroom fixtures.
Bealefield was qutoed as saying "We have nothing to go on."

I didn't plan to operate this way but when I think about it (which you've laughlingly asked us to do)...I rarely call it anything at all.

Upon reflection, it seems that if you use a combination of words and facial gestures... most people know what you're talking about. I typically say for example- "Where is your...?" or "I am going to the..." and then raise my eyebrows. This strange affectation I developed works in most countries where I don't speak the "language" at all and I usually wind up where I want to be.

I once heard that Lyndon B. Johnson made a number of important decisions in the loo. Maybe that's what Obama's doing.

It is troublesome; I still talk about people "going to wash their hands". I hope that's not completely a euphemism.

I love the suggestion of "going to the euphemism." We borrowed "cludgie" from a Scottish friend as well. But why say anything at all? Most people can find the right room unaided, and in some cases it's TMI.

I prefer "I'll be back in a few." A couple of my uncles - those whose wives had more genteel sensibilities - always announced that they would be "Walking down the path."

In Canada, it's washroom, which is both accurate -- at least, one hopes that washing is involved -- and non-specific. But it does tend to confuse some Americans, or at least those who work at gas station convenience stores near large highways.

Here, finally, would be an appropriate place to quote from Adam Hart-Davis's "Thunder, Flush and Thomas Crapper: An Encycloopedia". But I don't have it to hand...

"Thunder mug" made me laugh, right out loud.

We've used "can" before, but down here in the South, restroom seems to be the term most often used.

Anyone say "biffie" yet? Maybe that's a regional thing...

Toma, what region did you have in mind?
I have heard "biffie," but couldn't tell you where it originated.

I've heard it in the Midwest, but it's not terribly common. I also can't think of a specific instance of hearing it.

Toma, now that you mention it, I think it was my Midwestern m-in-law who said "biffie" or "biff" for short.

According to my own monitoring, millions of people on our planet receive the business loans at various banks. So, there's a good possibility to get a bank loan in any country.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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