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Published for the Employees and Friends of Glendale Community College

Vol 14.10 · October 2012

Professor Jim Veihedeffer

Gaucho Gazette > October 2012 > Academic Affairs

Words Evolve from Toile

In the September Gaucho Gazette, I talked about how words reveal buried civilizations if you only have patience to dig deep enough. Now, as elections draw nigh and we find ourselves knee deep in…politics, it might be interesting to look at the evolution of the word “toilet.”

In his highly readable history of household rooms, At Home, Bill Bryson points out that few words have undergone more transformations than that most necessary of modern conveniences, the toilet. Toile entered the language in the mid-16th century from an Old French word for a kind of linen and gave rise to the diminutive toilette, a linen clothing bag. It became the cloth draped over a lady or gentleman's shoulders while their hair was being dressed, the cloth used on dressing tables and then the items on the dressing table themselves (toiletries).

From there, toilet enlarges to become the dressing room and then any kind of private room near the bedroom. Fans of 18th century novels will recognize that aristocratic ladies were often said to be “in their toilette” when receiving visitors of either gender.

The toilet then regresses, so to speak, to become a room used, ahem, lavatorially and then finally emerges as the flush toilet itself (or as the British say, water closet or WC). The word ‘lavatory’ comes from the Latin lavâre, to wash.

Nowadays, toilet can refer to either the hardware or the enclosing room, peculiarly called a restroom considering that hardly anyone goes there to rest. As for the paper, perhaps the less said the better, particularly with Halloween on the horizon. However, scholar Joseph Needham notes the first documented use of toilet paper in human history dates back to the sixth century in early medieval China. Hopefully, where you find a toilet, toilet paper can’t be far behind.

 Jim Veihdeffer is an adjunct faculty member of the English Department at GCC. He has taught writing at Arizona State University, Penn State and Gannon University as well as worked as a professional copywriter, editor and journalist. He recently returned from teaching English for three years in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.  

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October 2012 Contents:

Presidential Perspectives

Academic Affairs

Administrative Services

Student Affairs

Around Campus

Staff and Contacts

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