English words used when we Spend a Penny
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Hi, I’m Hilary and welcome to this latest podcast from Adept English. Our aim, our goal is to give you lots of English language to listen to. This will keep your English language learning going, increasing your vocabulary week by week.
We also do courses – and if you haven’t yet signed up for our free course, ‘The Seven Rules of Adept English’ – you are missing out. We also have courses that you can buy – but if you want to try out our courses before you buy – do the Seven Rules first. It’s completely free of charge – and also contains the important ideas on which our method of learning English is based. You’re missing out on something really good if you haven’t done it yet!
Rule Six of Adept English talks about ‘The Helping Hand’ – so today’s podcast is going to be based on that idea. There are lots of parts of the English language, which are not simple – and there being so many words is one of these. So this week I am going to take your through ‘words for the toilet’. I’m sure in most languages there are a few words for this, but let’s talk through the common ones in English – and what their more slightly different meanings and uses are. If you don’t know the word toilet – if you drink a lot of water, then sooner or later, you are going to have to visit the toilet, if that makes it clear.
So the most common word for this is toilet. The word toilet can mean the thing you sit on – or if the room contains nothing else, you would refer to the whole room as the toilet. So if your house has a separate room with a toilet in it upstairs, you might say ‘I’m going to decorate the toilet – I’m going to paint it purple’. This would mean the walls of the room, not the toilet itself. So if you are in the UK and out somewhere and you need to go – then if you ask for the toilet, English speakers will always know what you mean. This word will work every time.
But there are quite a lot of other terms for toilet, which you might come across. One of them, which you see on signs in other countries as well as the UK is ‘the WC’. And I believe that some other European languages it’s referred to sometimes as the vay-say or vay-tsay too. WC is short for ‘Water Closet’. Water Closet was the name that the Victorians gave to flushing toilets, when they were first invented, first designed and they were, of course very popular. If you ever get to use a Victorian toilet – they can be very fancy, with roses and other flowers on the inside. Very grand to sit on!
Another word which you will hear all the time in the UK to mean toilet is ‘loo’. For some reason, it’s particularly women who like to say ‘the loo’. ‘I’m going to the loo’. I’ve tried to research this, but it seems that no one is really sure where this comes from. It’s very common – it’s unlikely that you will ever see this word written on a sign to help you find the toilet, but it is something people say. Often in houses in the UK, there is a toilet on the ground floor – often at the front the house near the front door or off the hallway of the house. And this will be referred to as ‘the downstairs loo’ by most people. If you go to an event, a concert or an open air festival, the temporary outside toilets there are often called ‘Portaloos’.
Another old fashioned but quite posh, quite middle to upper class word for toilet is….the lavatory. To me the word lavatory sounds rather Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot (if you’ve ever seen those films or read the books) – very old fashioned, like something from the 1950s. But this may be because I’m not posh myself – and I’m sure there are people in the UK who would still say lavatory. It comes from Latin words associated with washing – like French lavabo – or the word laundry. I guess the toilet was often in the same room as where you would wash, so it acquired this name.
More lovely, rather old fashioned words, which you may come across in the UK – if you are out and about, perhaps visiting a town or city, you may come across the phrase ‘public conveniences’. This means the public toilets. It’s just very polite – public means ‘for everyone’, the opposite of private and if something is convenient, it just means that it’s easy to use. There’s no mention of the word toilet or anything similar, so you would be forgiven for not knowing what this meant – but it’s a very polite way of saying ‘the toilets’.
In the US, it’s slightly different again. The polite way to refer to the toilet is to say ‘the bathroom’. So for example, ‘Please may I use your bathroom?’ – doesn’t mean that the person is going to go and have a bath. No, they’re just using the toilet. And the toilet is referred to as ‘the bathroom’, even if there is no bath in the room – only a toilet. It’s a bit like ‘public conveniences’ – it’s so polite, it doesn’t even mention the thing that it means! And it isn’t very logical always.
There are of course a lot of much less polite words for the toilet – for the Americans, the slang word would be ‘the John’. You might hear in films ‘He’s in the John’ for instance. When I was little, if I was wanting to be a bit naughty with my friends, we would call it ‘the bog’ – and you might hear other words like Khazi and probably worse words for it as well. But on the whole, people don’t like these words – and prefer to stay with the ultra polite words, I’ve listed so far.
Another thing to bear in mind – when you go out, particularly to pubs and restaurants, you may find that the toilets are labelled ‘Ladies’’ and ‘Gents’ or that people ask ‘Where is the Ladies?’ or ‘Where is the Gents?’ So you probably know the word lady – it’s the polite word for woman. And so ‘the Ladies’ means the women’s toilet and the Gents – short for gentlemen’s toilet is the men’s toilets. In pubs and restaurants you may find them labelled with other things too. This is either other languages – e.g. Seniors and Senioritas (in the restaurant chain Chiquitos for example). There have been times when I’ve visited the loo – and had to study the signs on the door carefully to work out which one I need to go into. I’ve also accidentally been into the wrong one – people soon tell you, when that happens. On the other hand, you will occasionally come across unisex toilets in the UK. There aren’t many of them, but there are some. I think people prefer it to be separate mostly.
Another wonderfully old-fashioned phrase – the sort of thing that ladies in their 70s and 80s might say – ‘I’m going to spend a penny’. This means that they are going to the toilet – but are too polite to say the word ‘toilet’. The phrase ‘spend a penny’, comes from the fact that in public toilets, it was usual in the 1960s through to perhaps the late 1980s to have to put money in a slot in the door to use the toilet. And the usual charge was a penny – or 1 pence as it is now. The only toilet I know which still charges is the one on Waterloo train station in London. I can’t remember the charge, it may even be as much as a £1 now. There’s inflation for you!
Anyway, enough for now. I hope when you talk to your English speaking friends or when you visit an English speaking country, it’s much easier than it was before for you to find the toilets!
Enough for now. Have a lovely day – speak to you again soon! Goodbye.