wELCOME TO MY WORLD: What’s in a name? Let’s talk toilets

Thomas Crapper actually has a day named after him – January 27 is Thomas Crapper Day!

Yet, Crapper, who has been given the credit for inventing the toilet, actually didn’t. He was awarded 9 patents, 3 of which were for water closets. Yes, he was one of the earliest plumbers to make flush toilets in England, from 1861 to 1904. He did own the plumbing company, Thomas Crapper and Co. Ltd., and even though the “silent valveless water waste preventer” device is attributed to him, it was patented to Albert Giblin, an employee of Crapper. According to Ken Grabowski, a researcher on Crapper, Giblin either allowed Crapper to use his product, or he sold him the patent.

Our modern flush toilet came about through a long history of improvements by several inventors, from the Indus Valley Civilization, the Romans and Egyptians, on up to today.

With these inventions came names for the contraption itself, to the rooms we sit in to use them, and other contrivances.


The word toilet comes from the French toilette for dressing room, where certain items were kept for both genders in primping themselves. Toilette actually came from toile, meaning cloth, that was draped over one’s shoulders while the hair was being groomed.

In Britian the word for toilet is “loo,” which comes from the French gardez l’eu.” In England the term became “gardy-loo” and eventually shortened to “loo” for the toilet itself. It comes from medieval Europe when the contents of the chamber pots were thrown out the window and the term literally meant “Watch out for the water!” to anyone walking in the street below.

Also, during the Middle Ages, most peasants relieved themselves in a private place at the end of a street, or from the London Bridge , into the Thames River.

However, the wealthy mainly used a garderobe, a long narrow vertical space in the toilet. It is believed to have come from guarding one’s robe, where the ammonia from the urine killed fleas. The garderobe, when used in a castle, evolved into a small room, extending from the walls over a moat, where royalty did their “business.”

The chamber pots, found under the bed, were bowl-shaped with a handle. Mostly they were used during the night and were common until the 19th century. It’s also been called a piss pot. If used by children it is a potty. In the homes of the wealthy it was made in the form of a chair, where the chamber pot was hidden. It went by many names such as chaise percee, commode, close stool, necessary stool or night stool. On the other hand, when used in a hospital for patients, it went by the simple name bed pan. English men called it Jake or John, and later, in America, it became Joe.

Of course, the military came up with their own terms. Mentioned earlier was a man named Thomas Crapper, who made toilets in Britian. This term came about through World War I soldiers while stationed in England. They noticed the T. Crapper-Chelsea on tanks, thus, they humorously called it “the crapper.”

Another military term was the latrine, a simple communal facility that could be a hole in the ground, a communal trench, or the use of a bucket in a type of boxed container.

The U.S. Navy called it the can or head because it was squeezed into a small space of the ship’s bulkhead. Water from the ocean washed the waste away.

There are also various names for an enclosure for the toilet.

The privy (brivvy) name probably came from another earlier sense of the word, referring to a private chamber room for a person who didn’t wish to be disturbed. The more wealthy would call it a house of office, a necessary house, or just plain necessary.

Later privy was defined as a small building that had a bench with holes in it for a person’s waste. Privies had a one-or-two holer, sometimes a large hole and a smaller hole for children.

Some say that crescent moon, sun, or stars carved in or on a door came about for mostly public places, like inns and churches, to note different genders. Actually, the main purpose of a carving of a star or moon was for venting and light.

When built in the back of a house, it was called “back house,” “house of office,” “house of ease,” “little house” or outhouse. The outhouse was used by city folk as well as rural people. It was originally an out-building or small structure, built away from the main building.

Finally the toilet comes into the house and with indoor plumbing it becomes a permanent fixture by the end of the 19th century. With it comes the term bathroom, where a person takes a bath.

Of course, with a bathroom we now have more terms such as toilet paper, shower, toiletries, powder room, washroom and restroom. In my opinion, every day is a good day to celebrate Thomas Crapper Day!