I know several words for the toilet, i.e. bathroom. However I want to know the colloquial word for the seat on which one sits while defecating. I have read john somewhere but never heard an American actually use it in real or on TV. How common is the word in real? If not, what's the most commonly used word or words throughout the United States?

And while we're at it, is commode itself used commonly in American English? If not, what's the American non-slang equivalent?

P.S. I understand there are euphemistic alternatives such as bathroom or lavatory while referring to the act of defecating itself. My question, however, is more specific to the bowl and not the act. For example, consider this statement: "My bowl/commode/john/etc. is broken." One cannot use bathroom here. What's the word (or words) a typical American is most likely to use in this context?

  • 3
    americans say both john and commode, though commode is mostly used nowadays only by older people.
    – user31341
    Nov 23, 2014 at 3:58
  • 7
    The seat is known as a "toilet seat". It's attached to the bowl of a "toilet".
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 23, 2014 at 5:28
  • ("John" is slang. "Commode" is rarely used, and may be mistaken for a reference to a piece of bedroom furniture.)
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 23, 2014 at 5:29
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    "Porcelain altar" is another one, although it's generally worshipped rather than sat upon. Nov 23, 2014 at 14:44
  • 2
    @guifa And in the same situation, those of less religious proclivities might choose instead to talk on the big white phone. Nov 24, 2014 at 2:03

4 Answers 4


Commode: (from The American Heritage® Dictionary)

  • A low cabinet or chest of drawers, often elaborately decorated and usually standing on legs or short feet.

  • A movable stand or cupboard containing a washbowl.

  • A toilet.

Toilet vs commode:

  • Why do some folks call the toilet a commode? At one point in history, the commode was a piece of furniture you’d put a chamberpot in. Today, commode is still a common term heard in the American South. Elsewhere, the term commode denotes a kind of cabinet, causing confusion when journalists mistook reports of Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham taking a bribe in the form of a pair of antique commodes worth more than $7000. What do you call your porcelain throne?

Ngram - Toilet vs commode

Why the Toilet is sometimes called a “John ”?

  • The term is thought to derive from Sir John Harrington or, at the least, to have been popularized due to Harrington. (There are a few references of the toilet being called “Cousin John”, as well as many references to it being called “Jake” and other such generic names, before Harrington was born; but it is generally agreed that why we now call it “John” is because of Harrington and not from the old “Cousin John”).

Toilet is the term you should use, commode has a restricted use though it is still common in some parts of US. John as well as other nouns are slang terms and should be used with care. (See extract about "John" ).


"Toilet" is the "official" US term for the thing upon which you sit, though occasionally "stool" is used.

See, for example, this page selling toilets: http://www.homedepot.com/b/Bath-Toilets-Toilet-Seats-Bidets/N-5yc1vZbzae

There are of course multiple slang terms -- John, throne, crapper, can,pot, etc.

"Commode" is sometimes used but it is also the name for a piece of bedroom furniture (one that was sometimes used to hold a bedpan or chamber pot, hence the connection), and one might therefore interpret the term as referring to furniture.

  • 7
    I'm an American who has never heard a toilet referred to as a stool. Stools are associated with milking, climbing, etc. (e.g. stepping stool). A completely different kind of stool is associated with the bathroom. Commode is still used: bedside commode is probably the most frequent example. Nov 23, 2014 at 6:11
  • 2
    Stool is what goes into the toilet. A "stool sample" didn't.
    – TRomano
    Nov 23, 2014 at 12:22
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    "Stool" is a term that plumbers and carpenters often use, during house construction, etc.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 23, 2014 at 13:35

As several answers have noted in passing, Americans generally do not use toilet to refer to the room, unlike the French (and apparently others). For that they use rest room, Men's room, Women's room, bath room (typically at home, not public), or (old-fashioned, and for the Women's room only) powder room.

When Americans use the word toilet they mean what you sit on: the toilet bowl together with the toilet seat mounted on top of it.

In the US, the expression go to the __ room typically means to go to that room, but it sometimes is used as a euphemism for using the toilet. The expression go to toilet unambiguously means using it.


In the US:

The register of "toilet" is normal/neutral.

But Americans commonly resort to euphemism and would say "he's in the bathroom" or when in a public building "he's in the rest room". In schools they're often called "lavatories" rather than rest-rooms. "She was caught smoking in the girls lavatory."

The register of "john" is casual, and while not offensive, it could be taken as an inappropriate familiarity. It is fairly frequently used, in my experience, at least here in the northeast. "He's on the john." Compare Elizabethan jakes.

  • I understand the bathroom or lavatory euphemism but my question is more specific to situations where I do need to refer to the bowl in which one defecates instead of the act itself. For example, "My bowl/commode/john/etc. is broken." What is the word an average American most likely to use here?
    – TheLearner
    Nov 23, 2014 at 12:49
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    "Toilet" is the name of the device that the plumber fixes. It refers to the thing in its entirety, not just the bowl. If you want to refer to the bowl (e.g. it is cracked) it is called the "toilet bowl".
    – TRomano
    Nov 23, 2014 at 12:53
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    And if you’re talking about broken ones, the most common thing to break is probably not the bowl itself, but the cistern that holds the water and most of the mechanics of the toilet. But whichever specific part is broken, the most normal thing to say when you’re calling the plumber would be, “Help, my toilet is broken.” Nov 24, 2014 at 2:01
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    @JanusBahsJacquet - The toilet's water reservoir, in the US, is called the "tank". Tell the plumber you have a problem with your "cistern" and he'll ask what sort of pump you have in it.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 27, 2014 at 3:47

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