The grand origins of ‘loo’

Still life with toilet paperSeveral people, mostly Americans, have asked me why it’s called a ‘loo’ in the UK. My last post referenced a few other British-English words for toilet, such as WC (water closet) and public convenience. Loo was left woefully unexplained.

And so for you mom – as well as all my inquisitive friends out there in internetland – I’m pleased to announce the definitive answer for your elimination enlightenment. According to The Oxford English Dictionary (the grand-daddy poobah of all references of the English language):

What is the origin of the word ‘loo’?

There are several theories about the origin of this common term for a familiar article of sanitary furniture. The first, and most popular, is that it is derived from the cry of ‘gardyloo’ (from the French regardez l’eau ‘watch out for the water’) which was shouted by medieval servants as they emptied the chamber-pots out of the upstair windows into the street. This is historically problematic, since by the time the term ‘loo’ is recorded, the expression ‘gardyloo’ was long obsolete. A second theory is that the word derives from a polite use of the French term le lieu (‘the place’) as a euphemism. Unfortunately, documentary evidence to support this idea is lacking. A third theory, favoured by many, refers to the trade name ‘Waterloo’, which appeared prominently displayed on the iron cisterns in many British outhouses during the early 20th century. This is more credible in terms of dates, but corroborating evidence is still frustratingly hard to find. Various other picturesque theories also circulate, involving references to doors numbered ’00’ or people called ‘Looe’.

My favourite part of the definition has to be calling a toilet “a familiar article of sanitary furniture” – that’s fab!

Hope this serves to shed a crescent moon of light on the outhouse of mystery. Have a spectacular day!
smooches~
jEN

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4 thoughts on “The grand origins of ‘loo’”

  1. Gee, you’d think that the practice of emptying your chamber pot out the window would have been the origin of the phrase “Piss on you”, not “Gardyloo”. 🙂

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