The Toilet Room
Before I begin I have a confession to make. It is not a “Bless me father for I have sinned” confession, though I did take the Lord’s name in vain forty-seven times on the ride home tonight to acknowledge the traffic. This is more of a confession of vocabulary ignorance. I needed support from a Thesaurus while writing this piece, because I struggled for the right word to capture the deception of our culture in it’s choice of room names.
Deception was not the right word. Tact, civility, decorum, etiquette, propriety, politeness or respectability seemed more appropriate. I will do my best not to deceive here, though our tendency to misrepresent a certain room’s intention, makes this very hard to do.
Living in a three-bedroom house with two parents, six children and one bathroom, forced the bathroom to be the busiest place in the house. Dad always had prime time, followed by mother and then the rest of us. Baths are not as popular as they once were. The invention of the shower pretty well eliminated the need for a bath. We still called it the bathroom. Parents would ask one question before they loaded the six children into the station wagon for a short or a long trip. “Does anyone need to go to the bathroom before we go?” Believe me they were not asking the children if they wanted to take a bath. Dignity replaced deception as we avoided voiding conversations because that is what decent people do.
During my first days of schooling, the kindergarten teacher had a very strict schedule to keep. Naptime was followed by washroom time. The school had independently changed the name of a room that I had become very familiar with at home. The bathroom was now known as the washroom for my entire schooling. Now a school washroom did differ from my home. The boy’s washroom had something called urinals, which I had never seen before. Children were encouraged to wash in the washroom, as we learned phrases like “personal hygiene” and “soap and water”. The reason the children went to the washroom was never to wash, decorum kept us from mentioning our only purpose for the visit.
When I was a little older, after my dad had received his yearly bonus, he took the large family out for dinner at a large restaurant. Inevitably the water-drinking children would need to excuse themselves and visit the washroom. The restaurant to honour civility, had changed the name of this facility. Restroom was now the accepted description of a room to remind diners we all need to take time to rest. As I reached the drinking age, buddies would meet in bars, try to outdrink each other, and eventually rush to the restroom, where resting was the last thing on our minds.
In the early 1970s, my parents rented an old unsophisticated cottage. There were bedrooms, a kitchen and a room with a pot belly stove, but no bathrooms\ washrooms \ restrooms. A new name was introduced to the family that was a more confusing than previous titles. “The Outhouse” was not really a house, but for respectability, it was camouflaged as a unique rustic structure. This house had no shower, no bath and no sink. It served one purpose but once again propriety permitted it to be called a house. I would suggest this is not a house most people would want to live in no matter how strong your skills of renovating are. Night time trips to a dark outhouse was no day at the beach, regardless of how close the beach it was.
Even common slang did it’s best to avoid focus of the primary function of this room. The John, The Can, and the Loo helped to maintain confusion of the room we visit often. Of course the British elevated the level of bewilderment in of this room by using Water Closet as its description. Shortened to WC allowed all the Queen’s subjects to avoid mentioning water, as just the thought of running water can increase the bladder’s need to perform. The military raised the standard of discreet description by calling this area The Latrine. The Latrine sounds like the name of a beautiful overpriced restaurant on the French Riviera.
This tendency for human beings to label things that don’t truly represent the purpose is an interesting part of our evolving humanity.
Our need to title a room to masks its primary purpose is relative to our desire to avoid bathroom humour. To support this act of decency I have developed a theory of relativity. Einstein’s theory of relativity was pretty good, but when describing time and space Einstein conveniently did not mention a room where we spend a lot of time with very little space. I conducted a survey to show this relativity. This was a survey of one person, me, to assess the relative facts of usage of a room with many names. I will continue to not name the fixed receptacle we use in that multi-titled room. I will use a verb that hopefully does not cross the line of politeness and will not make you blush or worse yet flush, as you assess the remarkable results in this survey of one.
Weekly use of a Certain Room: (N:1)
Baths — — 0
Showers — 4*
Washing — 27**
Resting — 0
Flushing — 27
(* Just turning the shower on was considered the act of showering)
(** Some numbers were exaggerated to overstate commitment to personal hygiene)
People’s bladders and intestines work with great inconsistency. This unfortunate unpredictability often causes people to run, not walk to a certain room. An overactive bladder and line up at a public washroom is not a pretty sight. The cleanliness of public washrooms at a gas station is also not a pretty sight.
The art of misdirection and euphemism is a sign of a higher standard of civil conversation. Inoffensive, soft language helps to avoid uncomfortable moments where onlookers might describe you as vulgar. We do this often without even realizing our intuitive ability to give more appropriate names to things that really describe something else. We call our mother and father “parents” instead of the “cause of all our problems”. We call our superiors “bosses” instead of “the cause of all our problems”. We call our young ones “children” instead of “the cause of all our problems.” Well you get the point, using discretion, tact, gentility and other words from my Thesaurus, are important ways to show you are a model of human dignity and appropriateness.
Sorry I have to end this abruptly as someone in my house is very displeased about a certain seat, on a certain receptacle that was left up and this might force a conversation about something we affectionately call Eau De Toilette. Discretion folks, Discretion!
Cue the Blong. The only song I wrote that mentions Einstein, so it is clearly perfect misdirection