Besides 'poo(p)ing' and 'peeing/weeing' used by and to children,

besides 'shitting/crapping' and 'pissing' which are spoken, not polite, says the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English,

besides 'defecating/excreting' and 'urinating/micturating' which are technical and formal,

besides a long list of euphemistic terms,

why aren't there any common/standard verbs for these actions?

  • 6
    I don't think the two words in your title are overly technical, or overly formal. – J.R. Jan 22 '14 at 22:25
  • 8
    It isn't shocking that when you exclude all the common words for something, that only the uncommon words are left. – Oldcat Jan 22 '14 at 22:27
  • 2
    I think it was Dr Spock who, unable to think of a suitable word for defecation, used BM (bowel movement) throughout his entire work. But is not the problem that if there were such words, they would quickly become offensive as people would apply them to other things in the same way they apply piss and shit to all sorts of things unconnected to bodily excretions. – WS2 Jan 22 '14 at 22:46
  • They become offensive not because they are applied to other things, they become offensive because they are applied to defecation. THEN they are applied elsewhere. – Oldcat Jan 22 '14 at 22:59
  • 1
    There are No. 1 and No. 2 – Jim Jan 23 '14 at 1:40

This is an assumption made: that defecation and urination are technical terms. They are not, any more than penis and vagina are technical terms.

Is one only willing to accept crass or childish terms for everyday events, like breathing and eating? Do we adults pee and poop?

If you can't say defecate with a straight face, one can refer to passing stool, gas, or water. Or have a bowel movement, pass urine, pass gas, or relieve oneself. To make such universal functions taboo is to cave to Victorian fantasy that these things are simply never recognized.

Learning to exert control over our bowels and bladder is one of our first socializations in childhood. We are taught that passing stool into our underwear is socially unacceptable. But the vast majority of us are successful in mastering this skill, and we are proud of it when we do. Maybe Freud is to blame for making passing stool a traumatic experience.

  • I would argue that "to defecate" and "to urinate" are not high frequency words; and it is probably this that the OP is referring to. Unlike penis and vagina which have lost their medical and official-sounding auras, those terms are no longer censored. – Mari-Lou A Jan 23 '14 at 7:39
  • I agree that "defecate" is not terribly common, but "urinate" is; both are frequently written, and urinate is frequently spoken. Knowing the limitations of Ngrams, please see this – anongoodnurse Jan 23 '14 at 7:51
  • I think expressions like "urine tests" and "to pass urine" are more common. I don't think I have ever said, for example, "I've already urinated twice this morning." I agree that both are common written terms, and both are formal the Google Ngrams prove this, but as for spoken terms, Ngrams prove little. – Mari-Lou A Jan 23 '14 at 7:58
  • I can only say that in the US, it would surprise few to hear, "I keep having to urinate. I must have the world's smallest bladder!" or some such statement. But people are far more likely to refer to frequent BMs as "I have diarrhea" even if it is not. – anongoodnurse Jan 23 '14 at 8:01
  • 1
    As I no longer live in the UK my exposure to English is limited to books, the Internet, family and friends; so I'll concede that "I keep having to urinate" is easily understood and used; but why do: "I keep urinating", or "I'm always urinating" sound to me as being slightly odd. To me, going to the toilet or I have to go to the loo are things I might say to friends or co-workers (if they speak English) Interestingly, Italians have little embarrassment in talking about their bodily functions; and will use both informal and formal terms very freely. :-) – Mari-Lou A Jan 23 '14 at 8:16

These words refer to actions that are somewhat taboo in most English-speaking cultures.

Given that, it’s not surprising that all the words for them get around the taboo in some way or another — by being either obscene themselves, or childish, or technical, or in some other way marked compared to “neutral” conversational vocabulary.

  • I wouldn't say it's taboo, as in forbidden, but instead unpleasant. – Nomic Jan 23 '14 at 3:23
  • 1
    @Nomic it was definitely a topic you wouldn't talk about in high society. Among your family, perhaps, but in the past, any conversation involving the sexual organs (think Victorian period) was frowned upon and considered vulgar. – Mari-Lou A Jan 23 '14 at 7:30

For common use, to go forth is a proper term for to defecate, and to make water is likewise proper for to urinate.

  • 5
    Go forth? What dialect is that? – Nomic Jan 23 '14 at 3:09

I was going to suggest going, but that's a euphemism too.

There are no common verbs beyond defecating and urinating because the euphemisms are sufficient to describe what we're, er, doing. That's why we use euphemisms; because we find the words unpleasant.

eu·phe·mism noun \ˈyü-fə-ˌmi-zəm\ : a mild or pleasant word or phrase that is used instead of one that is unpleasant or offensive

And now "I'm going to the toilet".


Well, it makes perfect sense that there should not be, as in quite a few languages.

It is a subject matter little children and their parents and childminders are likely to talk about, but it is not discussed among adults, unless you are with your doctor, or want to be rude.

It is only logical that there should be topics for which there are no common words, just because they are not commonly discussed.

  • 3
    Oh, they're not taboo in all cultures; maybe not even in most. Taboos are very culturally-specific. – John Lawler Jan 22 '14 at 23:02

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.