A toilet by any other name…

Language is a wonderful thing. Words have history, roots and reasons. The toilet throughout the years has been the site of inspiration for many a writer – and it has adopted many names itself.

Some names globally recognised, others unique to an area or culture. Fortunately, where there’s a toilet there’s also (usually) a recognisable symbol wherever you are in the world. Let’s have a look at some of the many different names given to this marvelous and oh-so-necessary invention.


The Lavatory

Feels very polite and formal – old-world even. The lavatory derives from the Latin word Lav, meaning to wash. Since wash rooms often contained a toilet, the meaning evolved into a toilet room. This word is globally used on airlines and formal establishments where it just wouldn’t seem right to say: “Where’s the loo?”


The Loo

A common favourite, and no one quite knows where it stems from. There are many theories like it derives from the French expression regardez l’eau (‘watch out for the water’), or from a shortened cistern brand named the “Waterloo” – much like ‘Hoover’ is used to describe any vacuum. With no definitive answer, this one remains a bit of a mystery.


The WC

WC is an abbreviation for Water Closet, and interestingly WC has evolved somewhat into a universal symbol for toilet. It’s understood that the term ‘Water Closet’ comes from the fact that the first plumbed bathrooms were as big as a cupboard or closet. So WC was one of the first euphemisms for ‘toilet’ which was thought to be too vulgar a term at the time.


The Dunny

An informal expression for ‘toilet’ from down under in Australia. Originally a dunny was an outside toilet, which had a pan underneath which was emptied by the so-called ‘dunny man’. The term originates from the British dialect dunnekin – which means earth closet or dung ken (ken means house).


The John

Another widely used one, believed to be derived from Sir John Harrington, who was one of the 102 God-children of Queen Elizabeth. Apart from his risqué past that got him temporarily banished, he was also known for devising Britain’s first flushing toilet – the Ajax. Other versions used today are John’s house, Johnny and Jack. Even though this name is very British, ‘The John’ as a term for the toilet is most commonly used in America.


The Crapper

We’re not being crass. This term comes from the name of a London plumber called Thomas Crapper who was a toilet manufacturer. He’s wrongly been credited for inventing the toilet. He did however create the ballcock which is the tank filling system still used in toilets today. He also manufactured the first widely successful line of flush toilets.