loo

Definitions

Medical

  • noun a toilet, or a room containing a toilet

Slang

  • noun a toilet. The most widespread and socially acceptable euphemism for lavatory, privy, etc. This word, which became firmly established in the mid-1960s, is a favourite of amateur etymologists who derive it variously from lieu (‘place’, as in the french euphemism lieu d’aisance, ‘place of ease’); from l’eau (water) or gardez l’eau (mock-French for ‘watch out for water’, said to be the cry of someone emptying a chamber-pot from an upstairs window into the street below in 17th-century British cities); from bordalou, a type of travellers’ chamber-pot; from an abbreviation of the name of Lady Louis Hamilton (apparently affixed to a lavatory door) in Dublin in 1870; or, least convincingly of all, from leeward (the side of a boat from which one would logically urinate). It may be significant, however, that this rather refined euphemism for water-closet was not recorded until well after the battle of Waterloo and the naming of the London railway station.

Origin & History of “loo”

Loo presents one of the more celebrated puzzles of English etymology. Not the least of its problematical points is that there is no reliable evidence of its existence before the 1920s, whereas most of its suggested sources have a more dated air than that. Amongst them, the most widely touted is of course gardy loo!, a shout of warning (based on French gardez l’eau ‘beware of the water’) supposedly used when emptying chamber pots from upper-storey windows in the days before modern plumbing; but that is chronologically most unlikely. other possibilities are that it is short for Waterloo, which was a trade name for cast-iron lavatory cisterns in the early part of the 20th century (‘O yes, mon loup. How much cost? Waterloo. Watercloset’, James Joyce, Ulysses 1922), and that it comes from louvre, from the use of slatted screens for a makeshift lavatory. But perhaps the likeliest explanation is that it derives from French lieux d’aisances, literally ‘places of ease’, hence ‘lavatory’ (perhaps picked up by British servicemen in France during world War I).
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