Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Euphemistically Speaking

Friday's border crossing was golden, in that all the people we spoke to or who dealt with us, spoke to us respectfully and they were efficient.

The weather god seems to have much rain in stock that she is trying to get rid of. I understand that of course. I went swimming anyway, you can never be too wet. Or at least, my skin hadn't osmosisised and crinkled, so up to that point I wasn't.

I'm always interested in which things we pay attention to and why, and in some ways, more importantly, which we don't. Japan has us all riveted. Here, anyone is quite likely to have a number of friends and acquaintances who have family there, but then if you compare that with the apathy that seems to be shown to anything that happens in Pakistan, that alone can't be the answer. Everyone in Britain is likely to have any number of friends with family in Pakistan, and thus everyone really knows that the average Pakistani family doesn't harbour terrorists and are in fact just ordinary British people.

No, I think we here, at the very least, are looking so keenly towards Japan, and having such empathy, is that we fear it could be us next. Just as in Japan, our buildings are constructed with earthquakes in mind. Our city councils have departments whose reason for being is ever-readiness for that or some other disaster. We live with the knowledge that 'the big one' is not an if, but a when.

But enough about global crises, let's talk about toilets. Now, I would generally argue that Brits talk about their bodily functions more than most, but not, I am beginning to believe, more than Canadians.
Last night, at my writers' group, someone asked about the meaning of the word 'ablutions'. This now gives me three words that Canadians use to mean toilet related, that actually have a much wider meaning.
The first I cam across was 'constitutional'.
The OED gives us this definition and this is indeed the way I would use it,
"noun, a walk taken regularly to maintain or restore good health."
Apparently here it means having your morning poo.
The second one, 'outhouse'
"noun a building such as a shed or barn that is built on to or in the grounds of a house. "
Apparently here it means an outside lavvy.
And finally, 'ablutions'
(usually ablutions) formal or humorous

an act of washing oneself:the women performed their ablutions "
Apparently here it means going to the toilet.

So what's occurring? Well, I think it's down to euphemism. I think at some point, all of these expressions in their actual meaning, have been used euphemistically to talk about the lavatorial, and then the euphemistic meaning has been used more than the actual one.
When we were little, our parents would sometimes ask if we needed to 'wash our hands', meaning go to the toilet. Fortunately, the euphemism never became common parlance, because that would have been most unfortunate in the way that nowadays, if monkeys misbehave, you can't actually spank them, euphemistically speaking that is.

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