Today I was at an unfamiliar supermarket, and I needed toilet paper. I looked at the signs over the aisles but could not find it listed. Then I realized that the sign was calling toilet paper “bath tissue”. That was very disorienting for me, because I certainly don’t do my business in the bathtub.
On airplanes, the vomit bags used to be called “motion sickness bags”, which is a very delicate phrase, but it makes perfect sense. Later I noticed that they are now called “motion discomfort bags”, so I guess now they’re even for people who are merely uncomfortable.
I don’t think I can remember ever seeing a label on those bags , but I always thought of them as “air sickness bags” - and then only if I was “thinking delicately”. Among friends, I just call it a “barf bag”. But “motion discomfort bag”? Who the heck are they trying to kid?
The name it is given in Spanish is ‘hygienic paper’, which I find even less appropriate. If you think about it (not too carefully, though!), the whole process is rather unhygienic, actually!
We also have a posh name for the toilet: ‘inodoro’ (odourless) – who on earth came up with that? Mercifully, the name is hardly ever used. Imagine having to say: Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go to the odourless – it sounds just as awful in Spanish!
All this reminds me of a book edited by Nancy Mitford published over a generation ago containing essays by the likes of Evelyn Waugh and friends and called Noblesse Oblige: An Enquiry into the Identifiable Charateristics of the English Aristocracy. In this book the expressions U and non-U were coined denoting ‘Upper Class’ and ‘not of the Upper Class’ a lot of tosh really but indicative of the era. Later a certain Professor of Linguistics of Birmingham University by the name of Alan S C Ross, compiled a complete list of words and notes by each one what he regarded as U and non-U. Now at first you tend to dismiss the whole idea as ridiculous and then when no-one is looking, you surreptitiously look up words. If you turn to toilet this is non-U and lavatory is U. My hubby is non-U and husband is U. How-do is non-U and U is how d’you do .
Euphemisms have been around for ages. My German friends ask me endlessly why we don’t like saying the word “toilet” and why I always ask where the “bathroom” or “powder room” is when the room I’m looking for has neither a bathing function nor powder. :lol:
Nowadays we also have expressions that are “politically correct” and “business euphemisms”. And these expressions sometimes drive me absolutely crazy because they’re so obvious (often to the point of being ridiculous). They are obvious attempts to hide something negative or unpleasant.
I mean, in the world of business, first the word “downsizing” came into vogue. It was an indirect way for companies to say that some employees (possibly hundreds or thousands) would be losing their jobs.
Then, apparently some genius decided that “down” in the word “downsizing” was still too negative. And so we got “rightsizing”. A nice positive-sounding word. But the number of jobs lost was not necessarily less… And, of course, “rightsizing” a company never involves adding jobs.
Well, for one thing, the room itself is not the toilet. You are looking for the room where the toilet is, and there aren’t many polite words for that that non-native speakers are liable to know.
“Downsizing” literally is a reduction in the size of the company, usually in terms of more than just the size of the staff, so it’s accurate. “Massive firings” wouldn’t really explain the scope of such a program. That “rightsizing” really is a stupid one, though. There is also the word dumbsizing, which means to downsize a company in a stupid way that does more harm than good.
I once saw GM jeered for calling part of its downsizing a “career transition program”. This was supposed to be proof of the evil deception corporations engage in. However, I was close to the situation, and the term really was accurate. The company gave the employees more than two years’ notice, paid for their retraining and gave them job placement services. I even met a lady who got her entire nursing degree paid for by GM. Some guys who didn’t take advantage of the program ended up in bad shape, but that was their own fault.
One euphemism I hate is “conscious raising” for ideological indoctrination.
Well, to me, ‘lavatory’ sounds awful. I myself always ‘go to the loo’ (or to the bathroom, if I have to be a bit more formal). It has a funny sound to it, as are some of the theories about its origin, and I don’t care if it sounds unrefined!
First of all, outside an everyday or informal context, I don’t usually say where I’m going in these cases (I find it a bit tasteless – I might just as well say ‘I have to go for a pee’!). I also usually try to avoid going to public toilets, but if I really have to and can’t do it surreptitiously, then I use/ask for the ‘bathroom’.
I know ‘the loo’ is not ‘international English’, as you would say, and that Americans don’t use the term. I use it in a familiar context, but again, I prefer not to shout if from the rooftops. Another informal word I heard in England was the ‘john’. The child’s expression ‘to do a wee-wee’ also sounds funny (funny ha-ha, not funny peculiar – thank you, Amy!).
Have a look at the following quotation. Isn’t it rib-tickling?
And how about these Jewish euphemisms for going to the bathroom?:
Plant a tree in Israel.
bring a Korban
Kli Sheni time
Put something in shamus
Let My People Go
Boil the bagels.
Take Terumah and Maaser
Put baby Moses’ basket in the river.
Rebuild the temple.
Going Shanah Bet.
Well now, I always thought the room itself was the toilet and where you sit (or not) “to pass waste matter from the body” (how’s that for a definition?) is the toilet bowl, though it’s often simply called toilet — just another Ukism, I guess. The French word from which it derives also refers (among a variety of definitions), to washing and dressing.