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I usually use the term "restroom" (or "toilet" if I want to make sure that everyone in the Czech Republic understands me at once), and, while I've always understood that the terms "john" and "loo" are quite informal, I wouldn't have thought these were rude words, as the article in the link below claims:


John: (should be used only with friends)

–Example: Where’s the John? I have to take a number 2.

Loo: (UK - can be familiar or rude, depending on where you are)

–Example: I’ll be right back, I’m gonna go to the loo.

Native speakers, would you please confirm or refute this?

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Hopefully, you'll leave a number 2 rather than take it. –  KitFox Feb 19 at 18:28
Honestly, I'd probably use "make" as my verb, but "take" would probably be valid too, much like the similar phrases of "take a dump/crap/shit". I've similarly seen people make a joke by talking about "taking a load off", a phrase usually confined to talking about relieving a more social pressure such as an obligation, or as a phrase to describe sitting down (taking a load, a heavy weight, off of your feet). –  Sean Duggan Feb 19 at 18:45
Here's a link with the expression "do a number 2": urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=number%20two –  Louel Feb 19 at 19:01
Louel, that's interesting. That's much more likely in the UK, rather than with the word take. –  Tristan r Feb 19 at 19:22
When my family lived in Germany, if an American visitor asked for the bathroom, my father was always tickled to point out said room--after which the visitor would come back out and ask where on earth the toilet was, to then be directed to the toilet room, a separate place. –  ErikE Feb 20 at 2:06

9 Answers 9

In the UK:

'Loo' is perfectly polite. You could even use it with the Queen. I think the etymology is French (l'eau = water).

'Toilet' Also polite and an everyday term. Sometimes people (with sense of irony) will refer to the 'little boys room', or 'little girls room', or ask 'to use the facilities'. 'May I inspect the plumbing', some will say. A male will always raise a smile if he asks 'where can I powder my nose'?

'Bathroom' and 'restroom' are seldom, if ever, used in Britain unless you need a bath or a rest! Sometimes people will ask for the 'cloakroom' - meaning toilet. 'The John' is never used and many in Britain wouldn't even know what it meant. Although the 'Water Closet' was invented in Britain, and it is an English name, the initials WC are seldom seen in Britain, though remarkably they are often used in France.

'Lavatory' is the 'matter of fact' term that sanitary engineers would us if planning some of the public variety - 'public lavatories'. Aircraft toilets are often called 'lavatories'. I'm not sure why.

'Public convenience' (a bit dated) is the euphemism for a public lavatory.

'The Bog', is the sort of name that might be applied in a rather macho all-male environment, such at the army or the local cricket club. At school in the fifties we always called them 'the bogs'.

At the vulgar end there are others which I shall leave to the imagination.

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I disagree about "bathroom". In my experience, "bathroom" is very common in the UK, though only at home, where the toilet is commonly in the bathroom. When I'm in somebody's house, I probably ask "Where's the loo?" and "Where's the bathroom?" with about equal frequency. (And, in cases where the toilet is in a separate room, it would be understood that I really meant the toilet.) On the other hand, it would be very unusual to ask "Where's the bathroom?" in, say, a restaurant, since restaurants don't generally provide baths for their customers. –  David Richerby Feb 19 at 21:25
Good answer, but I too will ask for the bathroom, meaning I want to go to the loo because there's more chance of finding a bigger basin, larger mirror etc. whereas the toilet in a British semi detached or detached home is often under the stairs with a minuscule basin. –  Mari-Lou A Feb 19 at 21:28
I was at a 16th century Tudor house the other day, where the staff wearing period costume spoke in Elizabethan English. The gentry referred to the facilities as 'The House of Easement', and the servants referred to them as the 'jakes'. Fortunately modern plumbing had been installed! –  WS2 Feb 19 at 21:42
Louel, that is very strange. Most people in the UK probably would not know the meanings of John and restroom. –  Tristan r Feb 19 at 23:33
"John" is commonly used informally in the US. It is not really considered rude, though. –  Michael Hampton Feb 20 at 0:31

The word loo is not rude, as you can tell from this link http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/loo?q=loo. It's just an informal/colloquial word in the UK. It's as simple as that.

The word restroom is not really used in the UK, as is John in this context. They are unfamiliar.

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Louel, not just my area. I've been around most of the UK and have not heard it used even once. If it is used at all, it's very rare. Was the person that you heard using it, British? –  Tristan r Feb 19 at 19:00
American TV programmes and film usage have made 'john' understandable, but no-one has ever used the word to me in that sense in normal British English. I live in the north west of England. 'Loo' (informal) or 'toilet' (polite) are the only words I hear regularly used. There are of course endless euphemisms - 'Where's the Gents/the little boys room?' etc etc - and occasional vulgarities ('bog' was once popular). Perhaps usage depends on age group as much as area? –  slam Feb 19 at 19:09
slam, you made a good point. I've only heard restroom and John used by Americans and other foreigners who learnt American English. While some British people know of their meanings, it's not likely that many would. The words seem particularly American, to me. –  Tristan r Feb 19 at 19:15
@Louel Heh, when I was a kid, I hated the word "toilet". Something about those mashed sounds in the center jangled in my ear. I started using "bathroom" and then decided that "restroom" was more applicable for situations where there were no baths (it's the kind of kid I was). When I had to refer to the actual device, I'd refer to "the commode". Never really liked "urinal" for the same reason... –  Sean Duggan Feb 19 at 19:18
Louel, there's nothing wrong with saying toilet, in the UK. British people do so regularly. Americans seem to have an issue with it, which is just another cultural difference between the USA and the UK. –  Tristan r Feb 19 at 19:18

In New Zealand, Loo is common and considered fairly formal also. 'The Dunny' is common here in an informal setting. Restroom is not used at all but people generally would know it and make the connection.

In conversation:

The toilets are down the hall and first left.

Where is the Loo? or Can I use the Loo?

Where's the Dunny? (informal)
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And would "john" be understood in New Zealand? –  Louel Feb 20 at 15:10
@Louel 'john' is uncommon but not unheard of, mainly in older generations. I have also heard 'Throne' used by that generation used humorously when use of the toilet includes some pride or sense or retreat. –  David Feb 20 at 21:58

I'm sorry, I don't know the protocol in the UK. In the US it proper and polite to say the "restroom," "ladies'/gentlemen's room," "bathroom," or "washroom." In the U.S. both of the other phrases are not common, but would be considered very rude in a formal setting. Having said that, since they are not common if you do use them you probably wouldn't run into too many problems because etiquette dictates certain cultural allowances. You would also be understood.

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I've also seen further indirection such as "the facilities" or "the necessary", but I've always seen that as a shade too far, and likely to cause confusion. –  Sean Duggan Feb 19 at 18:42
I grew up in the Philippines where we'd say restroom, toilet, or "comfort room" (a term that's unique to Philippine English). The term "loo" will be understood but isn't used. I only got to know about the existence of the term "john" last year, and I suppose many people in the Philippines won't know the term either. –  Louel Feb 19 at 18:45
@SeanDuggan: Not a very good idea when you really have to go! That's why I've always used "toilet" in Europe. It's international--everyone understands it. :-D –  Louel Feb 19 at 18:47
Agreed. I'd add that "men's room" is more common than "gentlemen's room", that "bathroom" is used at homes (where there is or may be a bath), and that "washroom" and "restroom" are used in public places (where there is not a bath). –  espertus Feb 20 at 11:26
@espertus Would the term "gents'" be used or, at least, understood in California? –  Louel Feb 20 at 15:12

"Loo" is not at all rude in British English; it's not even particularly informal.

In American English, "toilet" refers nearly always to the piece of furniture and not the room that contains it. It would feel weird to say "I'm going to the cooker" instead of "I'm going to the kitchen"; "I'm going to the toilet" is kind of the same, with the bonus discomfort that toilets are rather more personal than cookers.

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Isn't your definition of "toilet" too restrictive? Merriam-Webster, an American dictionary, does define toilet as "lavatory" as well (though it's listed as the third sense of the word)merriam-webster.com/dictionary/toilet –  Louel Feb 20 at 18:27
@Louel Maybe. I edited to weaken the claim a little. –  David Richerby Feb 21 at 1:25

In my experience as someone who grew up in Kentucky and currently lives in Pennsylvania, it's not rude, but it is informal. Rude would be referring to it as "the crapper" or the like. I wouldn't use those terms during a job interview, as I feel it would make me seem unpolished, but I also wouldn't see the usage as rude if used by a stranger.

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I had the same impression when somebody in London told me "where the john is" after I'd asked her "where the restroom was." She was one of the senior teachers in the school where I did my teaching practicum. I wouldn't say she was being rude. That's why I find this article a bit surprising. –  Louel Feb 19 at 18:38
@Louel That is unusual in Britain. –  WS2 Feb 19 at 21:25

I would add for the word "john" that it is informal and also kind of code talk. If you don't want everyone to know that you have to go to the bathroom you might whisper to the guy next to you, "Where is the john?" It isn't impolite at all. However if the guy next to you doesn't know what a "john" is (which in the US might be a 50/50 shot) then you are drawing more attention to your bathroom needs.

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So not all Americans understand the term even if the Brits who have answered this question think it's an Americanism (the OALD also makes this claim)? Where did the term "john" come from anyway? –  Louel Feb 19 at 19:25
I have heard the term john all over the country. I think the younger crowd (15-25) might not understand the term as much, however it is still used by them. Not really sure why someone in the US would know the term or not know the term. I am sure that most people on this site would know it but that is hardly indicative of the population. Might be a good secondary question to ask. –  RyeɃreḁd Feb 19 at 19:38
And would "loo" be generally understood in your area, Ryebread? –  Louel Feb 20 at 18:31
I would guess not. I spend a lot of time in France so I am very familiar with it as are most of my friends. Total guess but I would guess 20% might understand it in the US - maybe more if it had a lot of context. –  RyeɃreḁd Feb 20 at 18:37

While not rude, per se, a fair number of people like myself (named John) will dislike you somewhat if you refer to it as "the john" in our presence. Particularly intentionally, as some form of joke (sadly a very large percentage of the time I hear the term "the john", snickering accompanies it).

In (South-Eastern) American English, "loo" is almost never heard. It's not considered rude, but it will get you looked at funny. Here, it is simply called "the bathroom", though "restroom" and "toilet" are not uncommon.

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And does "toilet" strike you as too direct? Would you tend to avoid using it? –  Louel Feb 19 at 19:30
@Louel In general, I would always refer to it as the bathroom or restroom. Only using "toilet" were I abroad with some risk of misunderstanding. (though I'd probably look up the local word, and/or ask for the restroom first, anyway) –  John Feb 19 at 19:31
Which reminds me of an occasion when I used the term "restroom" here in the Czech Republic. One person thought I'd said "restaurant", another one thought I was referring to the kitchen. And yet another one thought I was talking about a lounge. :-D –  Louel Feb 19 at 20:12

DR is correct. A "toilet" to an American is the first and foremost the porcelain object, even though one has no trouble understanding it to mean the room containing the object. It simply causes a millisecond of confusion and discomfort to an American when a BE speaker asks for the location of "the toilet". One thinks something like, "well, Alistair, the bathroom is down the hall to the right...we don't really need to discuss it in any more detail than that."

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