Printable Version
Pronunciation: toy-let Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A plumbing fixture for defecation and urination, a privy. 2. A room equipped with dressing facilities, a loo. 3. The act of dressing, usually in preparation of going out.

Notes: Here is a word we in the US are reluctant to repeat; rather we substitute bathroom or restroom, and never even mention the object that gives this room its name. That is because Americans never think of today's word in the third sense. I decided to talk about it because its history smells like roses. It has one derivation, toiletry, which includes everything used for personal grooming. "To make your toilet" is to clean yourself up: take a bath or shower, brush your teeth, comb your hair. Toilet water smells positively flowery (depending on its source, of course).

In Play: I guess I'll have to use the word, now, won't I? Let's see how delicately I can apply it: "Darling! Could you come to the bathroom for a minute? I seem to have dropped my wedding ring in the toilet." (Did you notice how genderless I made this example?) Of course, I could always retreat to the metaphoric sense of today's word: "My life went down the toilet the day I met Belle O'Donaugh."

Word History: So how did today's word arrive at such a stinky meaning? English borrowed the word from French toilette "washing up, dressing", then narrowed the meaning to the place where you wash and dress. Originally the fixture to which today's Good Word refers was the toilet bowl, which reduced in the US to simply toilet. The French word started out as Middle French toilette "clothes bag", a diminutive of toile "net, cloth". Toile is the remnant of Latin tela "a web, net, the warp of fabric" from texere "to weave". The L turns up in various words taken from this stem: subtilus "fine, precise, subtle". This word was originally composed of sub "under" + tela "warp". The same root turn up in Russian as teč' "to weave", tku "I weave". The farther we get from today's meaning, the better it gets. (Today we thank Perry Lassiter, Grand Panjandrum of the Alpha Agora, for suggesting today's stinky though still Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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