The word gardyloo is a warning cry uttered before throwing wastewater (literally and euphemistically) out of a window. Every source I've found has traced this word back to some French phrase translating as "watch out for the water." However, the specific French phrase seems to vary. I've seen the following:

I'm not a French speaker, but from what I remember, I would expect that the imperative "look out" or "watch for" would be given using the "-ez" ending (second person plural / formal) versus the "e" ending (second person singular / informal), so I suspect that it's probably "Gardez" or "Regardez." However, I don't know enough French to know whether "Gardez l'eau" or "Garde à l'eau" would be grammatically or semantically correct.

What French phrase actually gives rise to "gardyloo?" If it's not entirely clear, could someone at least enlighten me as to which of the above phrases would be grammatically and semantically correct?



4 Answers 4


The answer to your question is "Gare à l'eau!" or less commonly nowadays "Gare l'eau!" [=look out for the water!].

Actually I have never heard anyone say "gare quelque chose." The typical phrasing is "gare à quelque chose" [look out/watch out for something] in modern day French.


"Gare à la voiture!" or even more commonly "Attention à la voiture!" [Watch out for the car!]"

That said, "Gare la voiture!" is grammatically correct and standard French, but is more likely to be found in literary works.

Besides, interjective "gare à" when addressed to someone is an invective exclamation. E.g. Gare a toi! [Watch out!]; Gare à ce que tu dis! [Mind/watch what you're saying!].

In conclusion, Farlex Trivia Dictionary knows best.

  • Wiktionary "Garde à l'eau (or more commonly dans l'eau) lit. "guard in the water," the typical French expression being "homme à la mer," lit. "man in the sea" [man overboard]) = Guard overboard, but "Garde! A l'eau!" = Guard! (Get yourself) into the water! Plus, "Garde! A l'eau!" can also be understood as "Guard! Come get your water/Water's served," the typical French expression being "A la soupe!" [Soup's ready/served!].

  • The Free Dictionary "Gare de l'eau" = The Water Station, but "Gare! De l'eau!" = Watch out! Water's coming!

  • oxforddictionaries "Regarde l'eau" = Look at the water!

  • unusuedwords.com "Garde de l'eau" = Spare some water (=don't use it all), or "Garde l'eau" = (You can) keep the water.

NB: In everyday speech, if you say to a French person "Gare la voiture" in a monotonous tone, chances are it'll be understood as "park the car," as long as there's also a verb, "garer" [to park], which is declined into "gare" in the present simple, the present subjunctive, and the imperative.

Edit: What actually is quoted in the Free Dictionary is not "gare à l'eau" [look out for the water], but "gare de l'eau," which still makes lots of sense in French provided the appropriate punctuation is added: "Gare de l'eau" [=The Water Station], but "Gare! De l'eau!" [Watch out/look out! Water's coming!]. Hence the most logic English transcription "Gardyloo!".


The OED says: apparently < a pseudo-French phrase gare de l'eau ‘beware of the water’; in correct French it would be gare l'eau.


You can see examples of the older use of "Gare" rather than "Gare à" as an interjection in Littré's dictionary, a classical French dictionary that dates back to the mid-nineteenth century and remains a reference. Here is a link to this page:



(what Fr phrase gv rs to the word?) My source is my recoll. of a Nat. Geog. article from c. 50 yrs ago - an article about Scotland. And, y'see, there is not exactly a French original phrase, but (thus) an English bastardization of what would orig. have been pristine French grammar. So what is closest to the "orginal French phrase" is something like "Gardez l'eau!" A nice educated French person might yell "Mesdames et messieurs! Gardez-vous de l'eau que je jette à l'instant!" but that is not the "origin" of this phrase, any more than we can declare the precise origin of "ain't".

  • "Gardez-vous..." makes a lot of sense to my French ear, though the turn is quite literary. "Gardez-vous de ne pas prendre (or attraper) froid" for "mind you don't get/catch a cold." :-)
    – Elian
    Apr 24, 2014 at 16:21
  • Excatly - because, as you see, "gardyloo" was never hollered in France. It was hollered in London; Liverpool, Edinburgh. It is an English-language corruption of something on a smallish list of possibilities that was hollered in French.
    – user72120
    Apr 24, 2014 at 17:41
  • It might not have been hollered in French, but it might have been uttered in a loud and clear voice by some well educated gentle person to warn passersby about an imminent throw of waste water (or, rather, watery wastes) into the street. And so, "Gardez l'eau!" indeed might be a corruption of "Gardez-vous de l'eau!" [=Take cover/shelter! Water's coming down!]. That being said, that meaning of "Gardez l'eau" is now definitely obsolete and would sound fairly unnatural to the average French person.
    – Elian
    Apr 24, 2014 at 18:37
  • To make its meaning utterly clear and immediately apparent, those online sources should state "Gardyloo" as coming from French "se garder de," literally "guard oneself from" [=protect oneself from; take cover/shelter], corrupted into "Garder" in old, colloquial French. Hence, from "Gardez-vous de l'eau," the corrupted "Gardez l'eau," pronounced in English as "Gardyloo."
    – Elian
    Apr 24, 2014 at 18:59

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