All She Wrote: Potty politics


Nicole_Crewsby Nicole Crews

Mother: I need to use the john.

Me: I think you mean the jane.

Mother: What’s the difference?

Sir John Harrington — Queen Elizabeth I’s godson and provocative writer — is credited with devising Britain’s first flushing toilet in the 16th Century. He called it the “ajax” after jake, the colloquial term for the pot, but “john” is the moniker that stuck.

One of his best-known works — outside of the john (though where he actually wrote it remains a mystery) — was a satire entitled “A New Discourse upon a Stale Subject: The Metamorphosis of Ajax.”

A discreet flushing of the excrement that was poisoning the state at the time, the allegory was based on his invention. It tanked with the Earl of Leicester and the powers that be and got him banished from court for a time, but won him the ongoing reference. So every time you use the john, think about Harrington.

Here are a few more tales from the toilet to distract you from the fact that North Carolina’s recent Bathroom Bill— which really is anything but — has set us back at least to the 1960s, if not the 16th Century.

Dunny: Derived from British dialect word dunnekin — meaning dung house. Most often referenced in the Australian bush but also applicable to North Carolina’s General Assembly.

Crapper: United States soldiers stationed in England during World War I took to calling toilets predominately made by Thomas Crapper & Co. “the crapper.” Also works in the sentence, “North Carolina’s economy is headed for the crapper to the tune of at least $4.5 billion at risk for federal funding and innumerable industry boycotts.”

Pot: A chamber pot was a bowl-shaped container kept in the bedroom to be used as a toilet at night before the introduction of intricate indoor plumbing. Also works in the sentence, “North Carolina’s reputation is going to pot.”

Thunder Box: A slang word for toilet associated with flatulation, which is what most men’s rooms will become if mothers aren’t allowed to accompany their little fart and poop monsters into the loo in public places.

Bog: A term meaning open cesspit that also applies to the current state of the North Carolina General Assembly. The Bathroom Bill article states, “No person may bring any civil action based upon the public policy expressed herein” — meaning that no one will be able to sue for termination and hiring decisions based on race, sex, national origin, religion, disability or age.

Loo: One theory is that loo is the old-fashioned term for lee and stems from early ships not having toilets and so urinating over the side of the vessel was common. Using the looward or leeward side was important so the urine would not be blown back on board. Another theory is that this was the first version of the unisex john, seeing as how the name “loo” works for both genders. (Also see metaphors regarding how our state government is affecting our state economically and sociologically.)

Lavatory: From the Latin, to wash — as in to wash away years of reputation-building and initiative for North Carolina as a member of the progressive South.

Jacks: A privy in Tudor England. A “jacks ass” refers to North Carolina’s current governor.

House of Office: Common name for a toilet in 17th Century England and 21st Century North Carolina.

Privy: A Scottish and Northern England term meaning private place. Also references an access to information, clearly not available in Raleigh, North Carolina

  • Joanna Rutter