Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Smallest Room

Just now, I found myself thinking of the toilet and the various terms and euphemisms used for it.

Personally, I like the American usages, and I dislike the British and Irish usages.

America is a funny country. Americans have a reputation for brashness and directness, but when it comes to matters of sex and bodily functions they are very genteel-- something I admire. (Perhaps they are overcompensating for the spitoon usage that Charles Dickens criticised, much to their ire.)

"Wardrobe malfunction" is not a term that would ever have arisen in Ireland or Britain.

When American students are looking for a toilet in the library, they ask for a restroom, a washroom, a ladies' room, or a mens' room. I like all of those usages. They are neutral and salubrious, and don't bring any particular images to mind. Insofar as they do, they are images of cleanliness and hygiene.

The term "loo" is common amongst the English and certain middle-class or upper-middle-class Dubliners. I hate it. It's hard to describe why. There's something babyish and crude about it.

"The ladies" and "the gents" are the other English usages, and I dislike these too. Something about ther mildly ironic air-- they remind me of "drinkies" and "preggers".

In Ireland, "jacks" is often used, and I hate this even more. It's obviously related to the Elizabethan "jakes". There's an almost deliberate coarseness about this which I find quite yukky.

Beyond "jacks", we descend to all the more nauseating descriptive terms, "the bog" being the least objectionable.

It seems to me that euphemism is an inevitable and healthy aspect of language, and if we are going to be euphemistic (which we should be), we should do it properly.

I've often noticed that crudity seems to derive from the same impulse as euphemism. We hesitate over using the straightforward term. There's two ways around this-- to understate it with euphemism, or to exaggerate it with crudity. Indeed, I've sometimes thought crudity is just another form of euphemism.

When it comes to our eliminative functions or anything pertaining to them, I dislike substitute terms which are hearty and babyish and jocular, because they create an atmosphere of accentuation rather than one of discretion. "Loo" sounds crude and vivid, while "restroom" sounds vague and discreet.

"Bathroom" is my own preferred term. Thankfully I've never had any smart-alecks make gormless quips about baths. I hope that lasts.

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