Avoidance: On Some Euphemisms for the 'Smallest Rooms

Temple University Press
Publication Type:
Ladies and Gents: Public Toilets and Gender, 2009, 1, pp. 126 - 132
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This chapter is about linguistic diversion, about verbal circumlocution and ellipticism, about terms used to obfuscate and disguise. It is about the many fascinating words, their variations and curiosities, that have been generated in the long attempt to avoid calling a toilet a toilet. But even there we are held back, by "toilet"-seemingly the plainest and most straightforward word, it is, in fact, itself a euphemism. There is literally no direct word of English origin for this humble object. Observing the ways and means that English speakers have avoided the unmentionable, then, is a fascinating linguistic wild goose chase, one that reveals much about society and. culture; as Judith Neaman and Carole Silver note, ~'Attitudes towards secretions and excretions represent a cultural history of the world.'" A true scholarly study of the subject would cross etymology, sociolinguistics, and psychology and take in the related areas of social taboo, the theory of politeness, and the study of gender and language. But while this chapter touches on these fields, it is more the perspective of an amateur etymologist, a word-fancier if you like, drawn to the richly inventive, sometimes salty, an~ often amusing lexicon of euphemisms for the "smallest room."
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