9 words to use instead of ‘toilet’

Lavatory, privy, loo – we’re not exactly lacking synonyms for toilet in everyday language. Still, we thought it might be fun to dig out a few of the more obscure and curious ones that have been used throughout the ages.

House of Lords

House of Lords has been around as a cheeky slang term for lavatory since at least 1967. In a Listener article, it is described as ‘Business Man Jocular’: ‘I say, where’s the geography, old son?’ or ‘When you need the House of Lords, it’s through there.’ David Crystal notes that House of Commons also had some use in the same way, but didn’t become as popular.


A term of great antiquity (now only historical), the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) lists gong as a special use of Old English ganggong. It is perhaps ultimately related to the verb go, and it also appears in a number of compounds such as gong-hole, gong-house,  and gong-pit.


This word comes from the first person singular future tense of Latin lavāre, meaning ‘to wash’. In the Christian church, a lavabo is the ritual washing of the celebrant’s hands at the Eucharist (derived from the words traditionally recited at this time: Lavabo inter innocentes manus meas, ‘I shall wash my hands among the innocent’). The term then came to refer to the basin itself that was used for the washing. From there, it developed the senses ‘wash-stand’ and, eventually, ‘lavatory’.


Throne-room follows a similar pattern to House of Lords in that the term comically exaggerates the importance of the lavatory.  According to the OED, it has been used in this sense since 1941.


Karzy apparently first emerged in the early 1960s. The alternative spellings carsey and carsy give a better clue of the word’s origin as a corruption of Italian casa, ‘house’. One of its most notable uses was in a 1967 episode of the British television sitcom Till Death Us Do Part: ‘Have you seen the carsy? Just a bucket with a seat on top.’


Petty derives from French petit. The OED dates its use as a noun for toilet to the 19th century. It is a colloquial term that was particularly common in the north of England.


Another regional term is netty, which is used mainly in the north east of England. It has been suggested that it is a shortened form of Italian gabbinetti ‘toilets’, but no evidence has been found to support this. Another theory suggests that the word is an alteration of necessary, after or directly from French nettoyer.


A rather short-lived euphemism is bench-hole, used in Shakespeare’s Antony & Cleopatra: ‘Wee’l beat ’em into Bench-holes.’ The last quotation for the term listed in the OED is from 1656.


The origin of cludgie is uncertain, but the first element probably reflects closet – it is perhaps a blend of closet and lodge. The noun originates in Scottish slang and is used chiefly in Glasgow. In figurative speech, it appears in the phrase down the cludgie, which means – you guessed it – ‘down the toilet’.

Oxford Dictionaries November 12 2015

Categories: English in use
Tags: David CrystalgongHouse of LordskarzyOEDpettypopularsynonymsthrone-roomtoilet
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