A toilet is a room used for urination and defecation. It may include one or more flush toilets, a pit toilet over a cesspool, or a latrine. It may be private or public; in public toilets, urinals may be open but proper toilets are typically separated into private cubicles. Toilets often include a sink for handwashing and may also be part of a bathroom. It is commonly known as a bathroom in American English (even where no bathtub or shower is present) and a WC (an abbreviation of "water closet") in British English, as well as by other many names.
In English, all generally used terms for toilets were originally euphemisms. It is generally considered coarse or even offensive to use such direct terms as "shitter", although they are used in some areas. Formerly, broadcast censorship even banned mentions of the euphemisms: Jack Paar temporarily quit the Tonight Show in February 1960 when NBC broadcast news footage in place of a joke he had taped involving the term "WC".
"Toilet" originally referred to personal grooming and came by metonymy to be used for the personal chambers used for bathing, dressing, &c. It was then euphemistically used for the similarly private rooms used for urination and defecation. By metonymy, it then came to refer directly to the fixtures in such rooms. At present, the word refers primarily to such fixtures and using "toilet" to refer to the room or activity ("use the toilet") is somewhat blunt and may be considered indiscrete.[n 1] It is, however, a useful term since it is quickly understood by English-speakers across the world, whereas more polite terms vary by region.
Since "toilet" has come to refer primarily to the fixtures, toilets are generally referenced by a variety of newer regional euphemisms. "Lavatory" (from the Latin lavatorium, "wash basin" or "washroom") was common in the 19th century and is still broadly understood, although it is taken as quite formal in American English and more often refers to public toilets in Britain. The contraction "lav" is peculiar to British English. In American English, the most common term for a private toilet is "bathroom", regardless of whether a bathtub or shower is present. A public toilet is typically referred to as a "restroom" or by its assigned sex, often "men's room" or "ladies' room". In Canadian English, public toilets are more commonly known as a "washroom". In British English, "bathroom" is a common term but is typically reserved for private rooms primarily used for bathing; rooms without a bathtub or shower are more often known as "WCs", an abbreviation for water closet, or "loos". The slang term variously spelled "khazi", "karzy", "carsey", &c. derives from a 19th-century Cockney corruption of the Italian casa ("house") in reference to outhouses; it's now most common in Liverpudlian use. Other regional names include "privy" in Scotland and northern England and "netty" in Northeast England. WC is also a widely used international abbreviation for public toilets, although its pronunciation varies by language.[n 2] In Philippine English, the abbreviation CR (for "Comfort Room") is the common marking for public toilets. Some forms of jargon have their own terms for toilets, including ""lavatory" on commercial airplanes, "head" on ships, and "latrine" in military contexts.[n 3]
Into the modern era, humans typically practiced open defecation or employed latrines or outhouses over a pit toilet in rural areas and used chamber pots emptied into streets or drains in urban ones. The Indus Valley Civilization had particularly advanced sanitation, which included common use of private flush toilets. The ancient Greeks and Romans had public toilets and, in some cases, indoor plumbing connected to rudimentary sewer systems. The latrines of medieval monasteries were known as reredorters; in some cases, these were connected to sophisticated water systems that swept its effluent away without affecting the community's drinking, cooking, or washing water. In the early modern period, "night soil" from municipal outhouses became an important source of nitrates for creating gunpowder. 19th century refinements of the outhouse included the privy midden and the pail closet.
Indoor toilets were at first a luxury of the rich and only gradually spread to the lower classes. As late as the 1890s, building regulations in London did not require working-class housing to have indoor toilets; into the early 20th century, some English homes were built with an upstairs toilet for use by the owners and an outhouse for use by the servants. In some cases, there was a transitional stage where toilets were built into the house but accessible only from the outside. After World War I, all new housing in London and its suburbs had indoor toilets.
Bathrooms became standard later than toilets, but entered working-class houses at around the same time. For plumbing reasons, flush toilets have usually been located in or near residences' bathrooms. (Both were initially located above the kitchen and scullery on the same account.) In upper-class homes, the first modern lavatories were washrooms with sinks located near the bedrooms; in lower-class homes, there was often only a collapsible tub for bathing. In Britain, there was long a prejudice against having the toilet located in the bathroom proper: in 1904, Muthesius noted that "a lavatory [i.e., toilet] is practically never found in an English bathroom; indeed it is considered downright inadmissible to have one there". When toilets were placed within bathrooms, the original reason was cost savings.
America and most European countries now combine their toilets and bathrooms. Separate toilets remain common in British homes and remain a builder's option even in places where the norm is for the toilet to be in the bathroom. In France, Japan, and some other countries, separate toilets remain the norm for reasons of hygiene and privacy. In modern homes outside of France, such separate toilets typically contain a sink. In Japan, the toilet sometimes has a built-in sink (whose waste water is used for the next flush) to allow users to clean themselves immediately. Japanese toilets also often provide special slippers—apart from those worn in the rest of the house—for use within the toilet.
- In British contexts, it is considered non-U, with the upper class generally preferring "loo", "lavatory", and "bog".
- Pronunciations include French: le vater or le "vay-say"; Danish & Norwegian: "vay-say"; Italian: vater or "vi-ci"; Romanian: "veh-cheu"; Dutch: "waysay"; Hungarian & German: "ve-tse"; Polish: "vu-tse"; Danish: "ve-se"; Spanish: váter or "uve-cé".
- For other synonyms for toilet, see "bathroom" at Wikisaurus.
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