Only in Portlandia

Other than this Oregon sighting (which came courtesy of Nancy Friedman), and in crossword puzzles, loo is not seen or heard much on these shores. An exception is this from an August 2011 New York Times style blog, about a country cottage: “You flush the loo the old-fashioned way — with buckets of water hand-pumped from a spring.”

But this is a Britishism that should be more than one-off. Now that john is antiquated, we don’t have a one-syllable term that’s neither euphemistic nor explicit. So let’s go loo.

And in any case, those stick figures are brilliant.

46 thoughts on “Only in Portlandia

  1. “john is antiquated”? Then I s’pose I must be, too. I still use it…(and people understand me).

    How about “head”?

  2. I’ve been using “loo” for years, and never been called on it but once,and that was from the English secretary of my son’s headmaster, who was surprised that I, as an American, would know the word.

  3. Hal, you’re right, “head” is a good alternative as well. Both it and “john” are old-school, and fine if you can pull that sort of thing off.

  4. Perhaps the “Portland Loo” people were inspired by “Portaloo”, which is the trade name for the mobile toilet cubicles used over here on building sites, at rock festivals, etc.

    I have to warn anybody coming to see the Queen not to ask to use the “bog”, despite what is suggested above. The polite term throughout the British Isles is “loo”, though I think she calls it “the lavatory”. “Bog roll” for “toilet paper” is a similar no-no, though “bog standard” for the lowest, commonest form of something is used by most people.

    1. “Lavatory” is the polite term, or even more polite “WC” (although thats all but obsolete now). When I was a kid it was considered impolite to use “toilet” and “loo” was very informal and not quite polite either. But then I did have very snobby relatives.

    2. “Portaloo” is *a* brand of mobile loo- there are others. As with “Portakabin”, if you use it in a publication as a generic term, you will get a snotty letter from the brand-owner asking you not to. While this might seem rather humourless, they have to do this to be seen to be defending their trademark.

  5. I will remember that, D.P. I am surprised that “WC” has not come up in this discussion. Pretty prevalent in UK, I believe; rarely seen, as yet, in U.S.

    1. It’s prevalent only in signs, Ben – it’s very old-fashioned and I can’t remember the last time I heard it spoken. Occasionally people use it in France, pronouncing it “vay say”, but I think there’s about as much chance of it catching on in the US as “restrooms” has over here (though I’ve seen that sign in France too, especially in airports).

      1. Interestingly, “loo” works in France, too- it’s ultimately of French origin.
        “Les lieus” = “The places.”
        “Ou sont les lieus?” works fine in restaurants etc, rather than the more formal “toilettes”.

      2. I’ve heard its of French origin too but from medieval times when people would toss their chamber pots out of the upstairs windows shouting “garde loo!” (not sure of the french spelling of that) – basically telling anyone below to look out below or they’ll get something nasty landing on their heads –

      3. Maybe “tosspot” will eventually find itself “on the radar” with “wanker” (q.v.)

  6. ‘Toilet’ is a common Britishism. ‘Public toilets’ where the American would say ‘restroom’. ‘Loo’ sounds slightly overly polite to my Scottish ears. A common English idiom though. You’d never see it used on signage. ‘WC’ or ‘toilet’ would be much more correct.

    Btw, the French pronunciation of ‘WC’ would be ‘doobleh-vay say’. ‘Doobleh-vay’, = double ‘v’ = ‘w’.

    1. I used to live in France. The pronunciation of WC is “vay say”, though of course the first letter is normally double-ve (with an acute accent on the last vowel – not sure how to do that here).

    2. Regarding your “overly polite” comment. I would certainly associate the use of “loo” with the upper classes.

  7. “I used to live in France. The pronunciation of WC is “vay say”, though of course the first letter is normally double-ve (with an acute accent on the last vowel – not sure how to do that here).”

    CTRL-ALT-e => é

  8. é – Many thanks, Chick Pea. By the way, as I understand it the reason why Portakabin are so concerned about their brand is that if enough people write the name in lower case it becomes generic, and they lose the right to it. This happened to aspirin in Britain, and also gramophone.

    1. Oh, indeed. A brand used too loosely and not “defended” can become an eponym (e.g. hoover or biro, though neither of these seems to have suffered the fate of aspirin).

    2. “é – Many thanks, Chick Pea.” explains a number of ways to get accented characters.

      If you’re using a UK keyboard as I am, the best solution is to change your keyboard driver to the UK Extended keyboard- then you can generate e.g. ü by pressing AltGr-2 followed by u and so on.

      If you’re using a US keyboard, the “English International” keyboard is the layout to use.

      1. I also use UK Extended. But how do I italicize words in this box (as I’ve seen someone else do)?

      2. Unfortunately, my Lenovo (formerly IBM) ThinkPad lacks the AltGr key, and both the U.S. and U.S.-International produce the Euro symbol, not the accented e. (Does one need to reboot for keyboard changes to take effect?) [Sorry, Ben, for the OT diversion.]

      3. You can use Ctrl+Alt instead of Alt Gr in some cases. For example, Alt Gr + e = Ctrl+Alt+e = é in some cases. It doesn’t work in this box in Google Chrome, though, but it works generally in Windows, such as in the Run dialogue.

      4. Sorry I wasn’t explicit; I thought it would be inferred from earlier posts. In either keyboard — U.S. or U.S.-International — Ctl-Alt-e produces € (Euro symbol), not é (which I pasted here from Windows’ Character Map utility)…which is why I asked my question regarding rebooting.

      5. It seems like you may have to switch to the US-International keyboard and press e.g. ‘ + e to get é. That will leave you needing to press ‘ + spacebar to get a single quote, though.

        Mind you, you can have two keyboard maps defined and switch them using an icon on the taskbar.

      6. P.S. I created the € by typing Ctl-Alt-e into a Microsoft Word document, then pasted the result in this box.

      7. Hmm, I don’t know then. On a UK keyboard, you can get € by typing Alt Gr+4 or Ctrl+Alt+4. It makes sense because the pound sign is on Shift+3, the dollar is on Shift+4 so they stick the euro there too. Does Alt Gr+4 work if it’s set to US settings?

      8. Maybe try using the right Alt key. It might be considered Alt Gr, even though it’s not labelled as such. I can’t get those symbols using Ctrl+Alt or Alt Gr, so it might be either your keyboard settings or your laptop.

      1. Okay, so it wasn’t my typo; it was an auto-correct on the zero, just like somebody else’s auto-correct “error” earlier.

      1. The biggest problem is that if you get it wrong, it doesn’t give you an edit or a change to back out.
        Or am I missing something?

      2. My problem too, Other sites I’ve contributed to provide some way of recalling the post for an edit. Anybody know?

      3. I don’t think you’re missing anything, since the markup doesn’t get translated until you submit the reply; and once submitted, there’s no recourse in WordPress, so far as I know.

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