Crap, Crapper, John, And Head – Where Did These Words Come to Refer to Using the Toilet?
There are lots of different words used to describe a toilet and the room that holds it. Americans are likely most familiar with the name of Thomas Crapper who patented a number of improvements on existing flushing toilets of the time. American soldiers traveling through Great Britain on their way to fight in World War I are thought to have brought the word ‘crapper’ back to the United States. “Going to the crapper,” was a phrase they are said to have started to use, taken from the company name displayed on the local toilets. When they came home, the word then entered the American lexicon of slang. The word “crap” predates Crapper by some time and has origins that likely reach back to medieval Europe to mean all sorts of waste: bodily or otherwise.
Calling the toilet a ” john” is generally thought to come from the man John Harrington who is credited with the invention of the modern notion of a flushing toilet, at least modern for the late 16th century. There is some speculation on just how his contribution to indoor plumbing came to be called a john, however. Some say it’s directly from his given name. Another camp of thought takes an older name for using the privy ” Cousin John” or “Cousin Jake” and tying that to Harrington’s first name as somewhat coincidental.
The head is heard most if you spend a lot of time around marines or sailors since that’s what a shipboard toilet has been called for centuries in both the British and American navies. The bow, or head, of the ship, was where a ship’s toilet was usually placed so the natural splash of water as the ship sailed would keep it cleaned out.
People still use alternate names for toilets: Bathroom, restroom, powder room, the john, and others that are even more descriptive, if not exactly polite. If you’re out and about you might even run into portable versions of these, sometimes called chemical toilets or comfort stations by some. The vernacular tends to give them more cutesy names like a porta potty, porta john, little John, or biffie. Companies that rent out portable toilets frequently use these for company names to take some of the gross factors out of the reminder that everybody needs to use the facilities at some point or other. So it makes sense that making a call to a company with a name like Little John is likely to appeal a lot more than one called something like Industrial Flushing Services.