Tuesday, December 03, 2013

A Comparison of British and American Toilet Euphemisms

There are certain articles that, during the process of writing them, force me to revert back to a fourteen-year-old version of myself. This is one such article.

Perhaps one of the more lighthearted variations between my homeland of Great Britain and the United States can be found in toilet euphemisms. While I have previously written about the major differences between the public toilets of both nations, it is of vital importance that I share with you the many wonderful phrases we each use to describe the actual toilet-going experience, not to mention the toilet itself.

Of course, the British are famous for the use of toilet humo(u)r. So much so that we have approximately 983 billion words for toilet. Most famous, of course, is the British use of the word loo, but the following are also commonplace within the complex world of British English: bog; shitter; lave; lavatory; latrine; and pisser.

In the US, these terms are replaced by a number of Americanisms: porcelain god; restroom; throne; the john, potty; bathroom; commode; crapper; outhouse; and the bowl.

Moreover, Brits have an even greater number of words to describe the act of urinating, including the following: having a slash; breaking the seal; spending a penny; having a wee; draining the lizard; having a piddle; having a tinkle; pointing the pink pistol at the porcelain firing range; and watering the flowers.

And Americans can certainly hold their own (pun intended) in this department too, with phrases such as taking a leak; taking a wiz; go potty; piss like a racehorse; go see a man about a horse; and take a squirt.

And if we're talking about number twos (itself a mutual euphemism), the British have a mountain of phrases: arsefire; download a brownload; downing the brown; having a poo; dropping a bomb; growing a tail; laying a brick; slopping gruel in Oliver's bowl; spray-painting the porcelain; and the unfortunately named chocolate time.

Some of the more humorous American terms include taking the Browns to the Superbowl; taking a dump; pooping; taking a Nixon; baptizing a Baby Ruth; murdering a brown snake; and making a boom-boom.

If you're still reading and have found yourself on the floor laughing, let me know some of your favo(u)rite toilet euphemisms in the comments below. Also, let me know of any that I missed (there are plenty, I'm sure).


Laurence is a British expat living in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a contributor for BBC America and writes a weekly column for Anglotopia. Having graduated from Lancaster University with a degree in English Language and Creative Writing, Laurence runs this blog, Lost In The Pond, charting the endless cultural and linguistic differences between Britain and The United States. 

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17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I remember my English grandfather saying he was "going to see a man about a horse". I got quite excited because I was a horse-mad young teen girl at the time and thought he was actually going to buy one!

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you wrote this. I can't believe I read it. And Basil Brush would not appreciate your final comparison, I'm sure. Or, he might.

Anonymous said...

Oh, how about a comparison between our toilet papers? Or gross advertising? Apparently we are more likely to buy associated products if they are hawked to us in a British accent!

Anonymous said...

A few U.S. terms you missed: "can" and "pot" for toilet, and "make a pit stop" or "take a powder" for visits to the restroom. There's "pinch a loaf", "make a snake", "drop a load," and "cut a rope" for number two. And finally, gentlemen may need to "shake the weasels" to remove the last couple of drops after "taking a tinkle".

Melissa S. said...

This blog has really gone down the toilet. ;-)

Melissa S. said...

Funny, I say 'going to see a man about a dog' which I always thought was something I picked up from living in England. I didn't realize that Americans say it but changed the animal.

Studio Kaufmann said...

I am a Brit in the USA and I always find myself saying things at a restaurant like 'oh let me just go and wash my hands in the toilet' Luckily everyone is too polite to point out that that would be rather unhygenic. You know what I mean .....or am I the only one who calls the bathroom the toilet???

Anonymous said...

For a #2, some say "Dropping the kids off at the pool" That one always makes me laugh!

Anonymous said...

I'm an American, and while/whilst (lol) in a Woolworth store in England, I asked a lady where the "bathroom" was. She look at me, completely puzzled and said "You want to take a bath?" LOL I learned to call it the W.C. or the toilet.

Jrex said...

We use "breaking the seal" in the US to mean specifically the first piss of a long night of drinking. We seem to be able to hold it for ages, up until we have the first break, then it's in and out every 5 minutes after that! "Piss like a racehorse" is reserved for when you are exclaiming that you have to piss REALLY BAD - maybe right before you break the seal; it's not something you'd say if you were just going to have a quick piss, like "I'm gonna go piss like a racehorse, be right back." "Potty" is for kids or maybe dogs, and if you know adults who say it seriously to other adults, those people need to get out more. Americans definitely refer to the toilet (the object itself or the room) as the shitter. It's my favorite name for it!

One difference I've noticed is that Brits will sometimes say "do a shit" whereas we never put it that way. Here, it's always "take a shit" in that context.

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Rachel Erickson said...

Having a crap is an interesting one because it was originally British (It's a respectable middle English word!), but disappeared from this side of the pond by the 18th Century, so that when Thomas Crapper was in business (pun intended?) no English man thought twice about the potentially humorous sur-name. It wasn't until American Soldiers arrived in WWI and were delighted to see "crapper" printed on the toilets that the word came back into parlance on this side of the pond.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I am laughing hysterically by the end of the article. Actually, it was from the very beginning. I have always said, "I have to pee like a racehorse." rather than piss. And, I learned, "I have to go see a man about a dog." from my various visits to England. Didn't know we Americans use "horse" at all. Very funny article on a topic that, whether we like to admit it or not, makes us all at least giggle a little. Thanks! (Mindy Helms)

Fishnoises said...

I have heard my (American) kids say they are going to, 'take a waz'.

Professor Hank said...

Pee: piss, leak, wee, run the hose, turn on the sprinkler, ring the bell, water the bowl, turn on the water works

Shit: take a Donald, write a letter to the pope, Release the Kraken, Unload the mine car, blast the Hershey squirts, drop a big tootsie roll, drop some Lincoln logs, let loose the brown soft serve, DROP ANCHOR

John's New Blog said...

Shed a tear for Nelson
turn my bike round

Simon said...

When I first started listening to podcasts I came across one called The Daily Download. I thought it was about software. It wasn't. (I'm English, the podcast was American).

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