My friend is trying so hard to fit into polite society, and is raising her child to say loo rather than toilet. I know it should be lavatory (and I would not say lav) but we are in the 21st century now. What would be deemed appropriate?

  • 10
    What's correct? Any of them. What's polite? Well, that's another matter.
    – Urbycoz
    Aug 8, 2011 at 11:43
  • 9
    @Waggers: Since this pertains specifically to usage of a term used during communication in the English language, I think it's fine in this SE.
    – oosterwal
    Aug 8, 2011 at 13:25
  • 1
    On reflection you're probably right. (In fact it could probably site quite happily in either forum)
    – Waggers
    Aug 8, 2011 at 13:50
  • 4
    Tell her to start incessantly with biobreak - FTFY. Aug 8, 2011 at 17:34
  • 1
    Questions like this should belong on the etiquette stack exchange. Please follow this proposal if you want to see this site come into existence!
    – Kalamane
    Aug 9, 2011 at 17:18

8 Answers 8


In the UK, people would be happy if you say loo.

An alternative to loo is lavatory, which is something you might hear in higher class circles.

Toilet is fine, but will make some, more old fashioned, people wince.

If you say "bathroom" (as in MrHen's answer) in the UK, people will probably understand you, but if you are out and about (rather than in someone's home) then they might be a little confused.

We don't tend to use "restroom" in the UK, but, again, most people will understand you.

Other euphemisms for toilet in the UK, that are used in polite society, include

Male toilets

  • Gents (as in gentlemen's)
  • Mens
  • Little boys' room

Female toilets

  • Ladies
  • Little girls' room


  • WC (water closet)

and somethings I've only heard from my granddad's generation:

  • Latrine(s)
  • Ablutions
  • 2
    Waggers explained that loo in UK is mainly used by kids, but you say that "In the UK, people would be happy if you say "loo"". What a cruel intention you have in mind! Aug 8, 2011 at 12:39
  • 11
    @StackUnderblow Saying "loo" in the UK is fine for adults. Honestly I don't think people judge you based on which word you use in this day and age.
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Aug 8, 2011 at 12:44
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    @Peter Of The Corn: I agree that it could be a euphemism, but I avoid it since commodes (as in portable toilets) are still in use today, and that might cause confusion. Aug 8, 2011 at 14:31
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    "latrine" is used today, but only for primitive, usually outdoor facilities. A campground might have a latrine - a house certainly wouldn't. Aug 8, 2011 at 15:27
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    Usage varies. In the (unlikely) event that I cared whether whether the people I was with might judge me on my choice of word, I'd simply ask "Where's the, errm...?", and wait for someone else to supply the best word for present company. But mostly I'd just say "loo", and let them think what they like. I loathe people who think lavatory is "posh" - it's as bad as urinal to me. Aug 8, 2011 at 16:55

The answer you are looking for entirely depends on where the child is being raised. In the Midwestern US, for instance, the most polite word is restroom:

Where is your restroom?

If you are in someone's house you can also use bathroom. Most of the US considers these two appropriate.

  • I just though, does anyone actually just rest in a restroom? Aug 8, 2011 at 14:54
  • What if they have an "outhouse" only? I HAVE seen this in some regions where it still exists. Aug 8, 2011 at 14:58
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    @bobnix: You drive on a parkway and park in a driveway. You put suits in a garment bag and garments in a suitcase. Aug 8, 2011 at 15:15
  • Another term that is more accurate and as accepted as "restroom" is "washroom."
    – oosterwal
    Aug 8, 2011 at 17:54
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    @oosterwal: washroom seems to be the standard term in Canada (well, at least in the bits of Ontario and the Maritimes that I’ve spent time in). In the UK and the US, I don’t think it’s nearly as common, though it would certainly be understood — or do you have places in mind that it’s common?
    – PLL
    Aug 8, 2011 at 18:45

The terms used for the room-sized location where human waste is expelled tends to be highly regional.

In the US, the term "toilet" is almost exclusively reserved for the plumbing apparatus rather than the room where it is installed. Because in most American home construction the toilet is located in the same room as the bath tub, when a person asks for access to another person's toilet in a polite way they ask "May I use your bathroom?" It's common knowledge in the US that such a question indicates that the asker wants to use the toilet. The term "restroom" also seems to be an American term that is not commonly used elsewhere. My Dutch aunt was appalled the first time she experienced a public "restroom" in a gas station. She had pictured a room where you could actually have a restful experience, perhaps with a couch or comfortable chairs. In most places in the US, although people know what a "lavatory" is, that term sounds very technical and is usually reserved for airplanes. Another generic euphemism that is common in the US is "washroom". "Washroom" may be the most widespread euphemism that does not have the possibly misleading connotations that "bathroom" and "restroom" have. In the US, I have only heard the term "latrine" used in military TV shows or by ex-military co-workers. To me, that term paints the same foul picture I associate with "outhouse."

In Europe, and other locations where the toilet fixture is not installed in the same room as the bath, the term "bathroom" is completely foreign. In these places the terms "water closet", or simply "WC", "lavatory", or "loo" are the more common euphemisms for needing to use the toilet. Of course, outside the US, it seems that it is not completely uncommon, nor impolite, to ask "Where is the toilet?" or "May I use your toilet?"

  • 1
    In the US, a water closet tends to refer to an enclosure for the toilet/commode inside of a larger bathroom.
    – Barry
    Aug 8, 2011 at 14:35
  • What if they have an "outhouse" only? I HAVE seen this in some regions where it still exists. Aug 8, 2011 at 14:59
  • I don't have a citation, but I remember a Cecil Adams column in which he discussed the origin of the term "restroom," which fit what your Dutch relative was expecting. Indeed, fancy hotels and restaurants have much nicer accommodations for relieving one's self.
    – Robert S.
    Aug 8, 2011 at 15:53
  • @Mark Schultheiss: That might cause a problem for people who are concerned about the perception of using "toilet", "loo", or "lavatory" in polite society, but those people probably would have a bigger problem with the physical outhouse or "back house" than the words.
    – oosterwal
    Aug 8, 2011 at 16:45

MrHen is correct, much depends on location. It also depends on the child's age; as adults we understand that "loo", "lavatory" and "toilet" are all the same thing, but for young children it is usually more helpful, for them and for those around them, to use language consistently. Therefore I would encourage parents to use the more common word ("toilet" in the UK) as this is what the child is more likely to hear other people saying (including other children, teachers, and other carers).

Making sure children can understand what's being said to them, and make themselves understood, is more important than adhering to some archaic code of etiquette. The archaic nature of the idea that "toilet" is somehow impolite is evidenced by the emergence of signs saying "public toilets" instead of "public conveniences"

  • 2
    Of course parents are and should be free to choose how to raise their children, but I disagree with the recommendation to stick doggedly to one term. I would think exposure to multiple terms is either a net wash or a net gain in the medium to long term. (And probably even in the fairly short term.) How do bilingual kids manage to keep from being overwhelmed? Actually, every indication is that they learn mastery of both languages about as quickly as monolingual kids learn mastery of their one. I don't think learning two terms for one concept is going to hurt.
    – John Y
    Aug 8, 2011 at 21:42

Slightly more formal terms in the U.S. are men's room and ladies' room.

Variants of those are little boys' room and little girls' room. I would never expect to hear one man ask another "Which way to the little boys' room?", but it would not be too surprising to hear one woman ask her friend "Which way to the little girls' room?".


To give another perspective: whereas reasonably crude terms will make some people cringe, terms like "loo", "little boys'/girls' room" etc. will make others cringe. The term "loo" was simply not used where I grew up, and to me it feels very prissy. It's all rather context-dependent; I know people who would, amongst close groups of friends, simply announce "I'm going for a shit". That might be extreme, but it perhaps serves to illustrate quite how out of place "I'm just off to powder my nose / spend a penny / use the little boys'/girls room", or even just "I'm going to the loo", might sound in some cases.

Anyway, I'd say distance is the polite thing. There's nothing impolite about the word "toilet" if you want to use a word for it, but in more formal environments, you might want to use the term "bathroom" (which, contrary to what Matt Ellen said, I believe is understood even when there's no hope of a bath nearby!), or " gents' / ladies' " (this has a sort of 'casual-but-professional' feel to it to me). But by far the most context-neutral, polite and distant way to go about things, at least when you're out (e.g. in a restaurant), is simply to excuse yourself. This has politeness issues too, but they're much easier to deal with: the difference between "I'll be right back" (casual) and "please excuse me for a minute" (formal) is pretty small.


Both lavatory and loo are fine, and it's meaningless to talk about which is correct or more correct, IMHO. Interestingly, these terms are quite strong class indicators in the UK: loo is more often used by middle class speakers than, for instance, toilet. When I was young, I once mortified my parents by asking a family friend if I could use their bog.

  • 3
    Bog used to be used more formally - at least in Scotland. I remember seeing old plans for a building with the toilets labelled "bogs".
    – neil
    Aug 9, 2011 at 11:15

Not sure whether this is relevant, but a teacher of mine (female, late middle-age and Irish) became very irritated when someone in her class used the term 'loo' as opposed to toilet. Nobody understood why, but since she was widely regarded to be a lunatic, and we were quite young and timid at the time, nobody questioned it. I've never heard this reaction from anybody since. Anyone able to shed any light on this?

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