The Language Thread

Loo has the additional defect of being French, of course. Perhaps a literal translation might be better, Excuse me, where’s that place?

But seriously: what does one say to the Queen when visiting the Palace?

The origin of the word is debatable, but it looks like its first usage in print was in James Joyce’s Ulysses:

Presumably ‘one’ wouldn’t ask the Queen, as that seems more like a question to direct at a servant. But even then I think saying “toilet” or “loo” would probably be too crude in that situation. You would likely ask where the “lavatories” are. In fact, that’s the word I associate with upper-class speaking. Around here, “loo” is no more posh than “toilet” (though I agree with @jbr that “toilet” is by far the most common word).


Ah yes, of course one would. And if the Queen herself is at a loss in the palatial labyrinth?

The Queen asked the King & the King asked the equerry . . .

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Although it has nothing to do with British idioms, the Hebrew phrase for a lavatory has been evolving for thousands of years, starting with a phrase from the Bible which over the centuries has been replaced with various euphemisms designed to be less offensive.

Although this article has Hebrew text, it is mostly translated. Here’s a translation of the few phrases that were only transliterated:

  • beit kise. Literally means the “chair room” or “chair house”, or in a modern English idiom, the “throne room”. So that’s a pretty ancient one.
  • beit kise shel kavod. Literally, the “chair room of honor”. The article explains the reasoning for that phrase.
  • beit hakavod. Literally, the “house of honor” or “room of honor”.
  • בית שימוש transliterates to beit shimush, meaning (as the article writes), “room of using”. Which is, as you can see, very very far from a precise description. As I understand it, this was the modern Hebrew phrase in the 1970’s before custom switched to sherutim.
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This seems like a good thread in which to let the mind roam. So many colourful expressions…

When I took French in high school, the teacher taught us how to say WC in French (doo-blə-vay say), explaining that we might need the information some day.

Can of worms was common when I grew up in the Midwest. And not to open one, but my favorite (attributed) Australian expression is a poofteenth of stuffall, as in a minuscule amount. I heard it from someone who claimed to have read about once, and certainly that is the only time I have heard it. Is it authentic?

I had never heard the word gormless before Rowling introduced me to it, but I have had occasion to use it since.

Returning to the most common element of the thread, I’ve heard the term biffy, but extremely rarely. Wikipedia tells me it is short for Bathroom In Forest For You, something I had not known until today and which sounds like folk etymology. And I hadn’t known that loo (the word, not the facility) wasn’t used by hoi polloi.

Thank you, all, for the entertainment and the education.


The Monty Python crew used “lavatory” as a refrain in their very popular Lumberjack Song. WARNING! IT IS MORE THAN 1,000,000,000% POLITICALLY INCORRECT. VIEW AT YOUR OWN PERIL:

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Just for the record, we at TidBITS care very deeply about language, so I’m totally cool with this thread continuing. Let’s not dilute the tech discussions in other threads, though. :slight_smile:

If you’ve been enjoying this conversation, you absolutely must check out Adam Sharp’s Twitter account. He tweets lists of linguistic expressions, such as what people in other countries say to convey the meaning of the English/American “when pigs fly” (It’ll never happen). I almost never read Twitter, and I never read conversations that follow tweets, but I make an exception for this guy.


Thank you. :pray:

Because iOS 14.6 has also blocked me from downloading any books not on an iOS device, I couldn’t open the ebook to find the spelling. But your link gave me this,

“known as Teachta Dála (plural Teachtaí Dála , commonly abbreviated as TDs).”

I don’t know if that’s the spelling used in the book, but that’s got to be it! My misspelling from flawed memory is obviously faulty…

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Followed Adam Sharp on Twitter immediately following seeing Adam’s post link to alternatives to “when pigs fly”. Russian version particularly abstruse.

And I even linked relevant another iOS 14.6 issue (Books fails to download books) in the thread, Adam…

Don’t worry about mishearing or misspelling Gaelic (irish or scots)–it’s very weird compared to english. Beautiful to listen to, but the sounds are difficult and the spellings often not anything like what you’d expect (e.g. ‘bh’ is mostly pronounced like english ‘v’). I tried to learn how to pronounce it once because there’s so much irish music that I can’t find recordings of, but gave up because life is short and I’m not much of a singer anyway.

As an example, one of the great versions of Casadh an tSugain (Twisting the Rope) from Michael O’Domhnaill with the Bothy Band, and the lyrics:

‎Casadh an TSugain by The Bothy Band on Apple Music


Casadh an tSugain - Micheal 0'Domhnaill and Bothy Band 1979 - YouTube
Bothy Band - Casadh An tSúgáin


I can’t find the lyrics in the link, but would very much like to find (a translation of) them. “The Twisting of the Rope” is the title of one of Yeats’s Stories of Red Hanrahan (1897, rewritten w/ Lady Gregory in 1907), "And whether it was that time or another time [Hanrahan] made the song that is called to this day ‘The Twisting of the Rope’, and that begins, “What was the dead cat that put me in this place,’ is not known.”

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Here is a version with lyrics and translation, sung by the fantastic sean nôs singer, Iarla Ó Lionáird.

Ó Lionáird also sings it in a scene in the movie Brooklyn.

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Sorry, I forget to say that the first link should work if you have an apple music subscription (I got it via the ‘share’ button for the track), which will show the lyrics, and the other two links should just work for anyone. The celtic lyrics corner link does include a translation.

Thanks for the Yeats recommendation, I found it online. Now I have to go find the rest of the stories.


Here is a version with lyrics and translation, sung by the fantastic
sean nôs singer, Iarla Ó Lionáird.

Nice. I also like the lyrics being synced, makes it much easier to keep up and see how many of those syllables and words get elided. But I do miss Kevin Burke’s fiddle part…

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Teachta Dalá is the name of a member of our lower house, what would be called a representative in the US. It’s an Irish name, ‘teach’ meaning house, and ‘dalá’ delegate. Someone may have spelt it (somewhat) phonetically for you.

Actually not British idioms, what with being a different country and all. Perhaps “British and Irish idioms”, @ace?


Good point: I’d forgotten about lavatory, I suppose because I’ve not heard it used for many, many years. Reminds me of an exchange from (I think) Round The Horne (a 1950s radio comedy), greeting new employees at a research establishment:

“Would you like to visit the laboratory?” (must pronounce the last word in American style)
“No thanks, we went before we came.”


Cockney rhyming slang iPhone covers are available for sale at Amazon:

All of Yeat’s Hanrahan stories are on Gutenberg.

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Hanrahan reappears in Yeats’s poem “The Tower,” II.

Thanks to both, it’s a loose end in something I wrote forty years ago.