The world’s number two post


There are some things in life that nobody likes to talk about. Going to the toilet is one of them.

So we don’t talk about it. We ‘pass water’. We ‘relieve ourselves’. We ‘spend a penny’, ‘take a leak’, ‘powder our noses’, ‘do a number two’, ‘get the trots’, ‘answer a call of nature’. Those are the classics. More recent additions include ‘drop the kids off at the pool’ and ‘Montezuma’s revenge’. In fact, even ‘going to the toilet’ is euphemistic. I wouldn’t say ‘I’m going to the kitchen’, I’d say ‘I’m going to cook dinner’. But whereas the ingesting of food is a perfectly safe conversation topic, the digesting, and egesting, just isn’t.

That’s not to say there are no dysphemisms for ‘toilet’. Just that they all come with a shitload (literally) of euphemisms. So while we’ve got the onomatopoeic ‘piss’, we’ve also got its derivatives: ‘pee’, ‘piddle’, ‘wee’ and so on.

If you think about it enough, you’ll realise just about every word we use to describe defecation is euphemistic. Even the ones that seem pretty straight. ‘Defecate’ itself originally meant ‘to purify’. ‘Toilet’ comes from the French ‘toilette’, a protective cloth people used while getting their hair cut. ‘Lavatory’ comes from a Latin word meaning ‘a place for washing’. Then there’s ‘bathroom’, originally a word just for a room with a bath. ‘Loo’, which might be from French ‘lieux d'aisances’, literally meaning a ‘place of ease’ (a bit like the American ‘restroom’). WC, short for water closet, might be the most ridiculous of them all. Nobody seems to know what it means.

The word that gets closest to hinting there’s something slightly unpleasant going on is ‘privy’, from the French word ‘privé’, meaning ‘private’.

Which leads me meanderingly to The Point. One of the big things we always say at The Writer is to write clearly. No jargon. No corporate guff. No tip-toeing around the point. The thing about euphemism is that it makes you look like you’re hiding something. It shows you’re not confident in what you’re talking about. So if you’re making somebody redundant, for example, don’t say you’re ‘going through a process of dynamic rightsizing’. Tell them straight, or you’ll find yourself in deep do-do.

 


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on Apr 13, 2011

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