“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

You English literary buffs probably know that’s a line from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. But what does that have to do with a portable washroom?

It all gets back to what’s in a name.

In American English, we use many words and phrases to describe urinating and defecating: hit the head, potty, go to the bathroom, pee, poop, number one, number two, the list goes on. And it turns out we have almost as many phrases to describe where we do the deed.


image of a toilet | portable toilet rental washington oregon

We previously discussed the history of the portable toilet and how it got the name porta-john but did you know there’s a lot more history behind the word ‘toilet’?

‘Toilet’ comes from the French word, toilette, which means a small cloth. The phrase was initially used to describe the fabric used to cover the shoulders when shaving or fixing your hair. Eventually, the use of the word was extended to include the vanity or dressing table and then later applied to the whole process of washing, grooming, and dressing. In the late 18th century, the ‘toilet’ extended to the room where all the washing and grooming occurred. When fixtures were created where people could poop and pee indoors, these fixtures were placed inside the ‘toilet room.’ By the late 19th century, ‘toilet’ came to mean the fixture alone.

We don’t often use ‘toilet’ in American English except when referencing the actual fixture or a portable toilet. But overseas in places like Great Britain, Australia, and western Europe, the word ‘toilet’ is commonly used, and it is perfectly acceptable to say, “Where is the toilet?”


image of a bathroom | portable toilet rental washington oregon

The term ‘bathroom’ came about in the late 1700s, and it referred to a room that had a bath or shower. As mentioned earlier, these rooms later included fixtures for pooping and peeing – the modern-day toilet. In American English, ‘bathroom’ is used to reference the place in a home where the toilet is. This is why we have terms such as a half bathroom, three-quarters bathroom, etc. Those terms denote the availability of other fixtures beyond a toilet. For example, a quarter-bathroom is usually a singular toilet or sink (not both), whereas a full bathroom includes a toilet, sink, shower, and bathtub.

In British English, ‘bathroom’ is reserved for rooms that contain a shower or bath. In American English, ‘bathroom’ is used to describe any location, public or private, with a toilet. Thus, it’s not uncommon to be at a road race or farmer’s market and hear people ask, “Where are the bathrooms?” when referring to the designated area for portable toilets and washrooms.


image of urinals | portable toilet rental washington oregon

The term ‘restroom’ came about in the early 1900s where upscale facilities such as theatres and fancy restaurants included lounges and sitting rooms adjacent to toilet rooms. These rooms were known as ‘restrooms.’ Today, in American English, ‘restrooms’ are a euphemism for public toilets. Almost everywhere – highways, restaurants, and theatres – you will see signs for public restrooms.

The use of the term restroom as a public toilet facility is almost exclusively American. In other cultures, the term restroom indicates a place where someone can sit down or take a rest. “In the 1970s, the official Xinhua News Agency of Mainland China published an English-language story stating that the vice-premier had met with guests in the Beijing International Airport restroom, by which the authors meant a lobby.” (Wikipedia)


image of a restroom sign with male and female drawings | portable toilet rental washington oregon

The term ‘washroom’ is even more idiosyncratic than the others on this list. Canadian English speakers use the term washroom to signify a public toilet or a room with a toilet. Strangely, parts of Chicago also use this term. Outside of that, American and British English speakers use ‘washroom’ to refer to a laundry or utility room. So don’t be surprised if you’re in Canada or at a Northern border town and find yourself looking for a porta-potty only for it to be called a portable washroom!


image of a all gender restroom sign | portable toilet rental washington oregon

English is a complex language. And whether you speak American English, Canadian English, or the Queen’s English, one thing for sure that unites all English speakers (and humanity) is our need to eliminate solid and liquid waste from our bodies. So whether you call that going to the bathroom or the loo, a washroom or a toilet, know that American Sanican has you covered. We offer portable toilets, portable washrooms, portable restrooms, and just about any other phrase or euphemism you can think of for outdoor urination and defecation. So if you need to go, let us know.

Give us a call at 503-252-0550 or email us at sales@AmericanSaniCan.com. We provide standard, ADA-compliant, and wheelchair-accessible portable restroom rentals to individuals and businesses throughout Portland and Salem, Oregon, Vancouver, Washington, and surrounding areas in Washington and Oregon. Contact us today to learn more about our different types of portable restroom rentals, or visit our portable restroom products page to learn more!