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A common euphemism for the toilet in the spoken Welsh of north Wales is "lle chwech", literally "six place" ("chwech" being "six" in Welsh). Note this refers mainly to the room rather than the porcelain throne itself.

Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (the Welsh equivalent of the Oxford English Dictionary) states here that this is a borrowing from the English slang six "a privy".

There is a reference to six with this meaning in The Routledge Dictionary of Historical Slang here. It states:

six A privy: Oxford University: ca 1870-1915. ?origin

I'm not sure to which Oxford publication the date range above refers. I've looked in the New English Dictionary ... under six and found nothing relevant.

In conversation, someone has suggested a link to the French "sis" from "soeir" meaning "to sit", which seems plausible semantically but I'm no expert on French.

Another possibility is that it may have cost sixpence to visit a toilet at some point. However, this seems expensive considering "spend a penny" is apparently from the 1850s and that it was only 2p to visit the lavatory in 1977 according to A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English.

Any thoughts on the origin of six in this context?

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    The date range probably refers to the time period when the slang was in use at Oxford University, not to a publication. – Rob K Jul 6 '17 at 13:58
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    @Azor-Ahai When it comes to the name of the room, different words are used in different regions and by different social classes. I chose toilet because in north Wales it is not uncommon for the toilet to be situated in a separate room to the bathroom. During the 1870-1915 period referenced, bathrooms were a rare luxury, especially in rural areas, and it's quite likely that the "six" could have referred to an outhouse rather than a room found within the dwelling. – PrettyHands Jul 6 '17 at 20:51
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    In UK English the word 'toilet' can refer to the room or the receptacle itself. According to oxforddictionaries.com the word originally referred to the cleaning cloth, then the room, and then the item. – PrettyHands Jul 6 '17 at 21:06
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    PrettyHands - Not a cleaning cloth, but a cloth covering a dressing table, then the process of getting oneself ready for the day, which came to include washing etc. – Kate Bunting Jul 7 '17 at 7:45
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    The Routledge Dictionary of Slang is just an abridged version of Partridge's A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, which has the same entry for six as the one quoted from Routledge from at least as early as 1938 (the second edition of Partridge). Partridge in turn may have drawn on Farmer & Henley, Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present, volume 6 (1903), which has this entry: "Six, subs. ... 2. (Oxford Univ.),—A privy." – Sven Yargs Dec 21 '17 at 3:30
7
+300

The best reference I could find is from British Library Sounds web page:

lle chwech≠9 (source of well-known Welsh joke that toilets are more expensive in Wales than in England as “chwech” also used for ‘six’, i.e. five pence more than “spend a penny”, possibly thought to derive from “rhech” Welsh for ‘to fart’)

see Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (online)

9See also Robert Penhallurick’s The Anglo-Welsh Dialects of North Wales (1991, p.226) Cl1 Llanfair Talhaiarn.

http://sounds.bl.uk/related-content/TEXTS/021T-C1190X0041XX-0501A0.pdf


Another possible explanation I've found is that lle chwech (which translates to "six place") refers to the workers toilets which commonly have six seats. I've found this explanation in three different sites (two of them are answers in a forum and one of them is a comment in a blog page). The people who provided the explanation appear to be of Welsh origin.

It's kind of our version of 'outhouse' - comes from workers' toilets, where you'd commonly have six seats in a row

https://forum.saysomethingin.com/t/tresaith-bootcamp-sept-2014/674/15


Welsh: Y posibilrwydd arall (fase'n esbonio pam fod y term yn bodoli mewn rhai ardaloedd gogleddol yn unig) yw fod e'n dod o ardaloedd y chwareli a mwynau copr, lle roedd cwt 'ty bach' gyda lle i chwech person yn unig.

English translation: The other possibility (explaining why the term exists in some northern areas only) is that it comes from the areas of quarries and copper mines, where there was a 'small house'(toilet) cabin for just six people.

https://maes-e.com/viewtopic.php?f=38&t=11463


The Welsh euphemism for ‘toilet’ is a literal translation of “little house” (tŷ bach) the standard word you’d see for example on public signs would be “toiledau” (toilets). There are other Welsh euphemisms for ‘toilet’ but the common North Wales dialect one is “lle chwech” which translates as “six place” usually explained as referring to workplace toilets where you’d commonly have six seats in a row?

https://stancarey.wordpress.com/2015/08/27/the-place-for-toilet-euphemisms/

Furthermore, I've found a supporting evidence for the second theory in an archaeology book written in Welsh. It provides a reference to a six-seater privy in a quarry in north Wales. Here is the excerpt and the image from the book Llechi Cymru: Archaeoleg a Hanes (by David Gwyn):

Anaml iawn y gwelwyd toiledau tan yr ugeinfed ganrif. Mewn rhai mannau, mae seddi dwbl o slabiau wedi goroesi dan ddaear, fel yn chwarel Cambrian yng Nglyn Ceiriog a oedd, fwy na thebyg, ar un adeg yn gysylltiedig â chlosedau pridd, er ym Maenofferen, defnyddiai'r dynion blanc dros sianel ddŵr a redai'n gyflym tan 1996. Yn chwarel Oakeley rhoddai rhes o gabanau heb ddrysau arnynt olygfa arbennig o dref Blaenau Ffestiniog. Mae magic flute chwe sedd wedi goroesi ym Mhen yr Orsedd. Cai hwnnw ei fflysio gan fwced y byddai dŵr yn cronni ynddi nes bod digon o bwysau ynddi i'w gwagio (Ffigur 163). Roedd closedau dŵr canolog ar gael yn y Penrhyn erbyn y 1950au.

English translation: Privies were few and far between until the twentieth century. In some places double-seater slab seats survive underground, such as at the Cambrian quarry in Glyn Ceiriog, which presumably at one time were associated with earth closets, though at Maenofferen the men used a plank over a fast-running water channel until 1996. At Oakeley quarry a row of door-less cabins commanded a magnificent view of the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog. A 'magic flute' six-seater survives at Pen yr Orsedd, flushed by a tipping bucket in which water accumulates until the weight empties it (Figure 163). Penrhyn had acquired centralised water closets by the 1950.

enter image description here

Ffigur 163. Lle chwech ym Mhen yr Orsedd, Nantlle, gyda dull fflysio awtomatig yn yblaendir.

English translation: Figure 163. Pen yr Orsedd privy, Nantlle, with automatic flushing mechanism in the foreground.

  • Thank you for sharing your wonderful research! I'd heard the six-seater latrine explanation, but only now does it seem plausible. I certainly feel it is more likely than a borrowing from Oxford U. slang (cf. GPC). Unfortunately I'm afraid I can't accept your answer, even though I would like to do so. You may have answered the question that motivated the question above, but the question I posed was about the origin of six as a word for the toilet in English. It would therefore only be appropriate accept an answer to that question. Thank you very much for your answer all the same! – PrettyHands Dec 26 '17 at 21:38
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    Found this also: "outdated Oxford University slang for a privy." Numberpedia/Herb Reich – ermanen Dec 27 '17 at 19:54
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    The "six seats privy" reference is in the Reports of the Medical Officer of the Privy Council and Local Government Board of England also. – ermanen Dec 27 '17 at 20:07
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    Chilthorne Domer Manor has a six-seater privy also: "In the garden about 70 feet (21 m) south of the house is a six-seater privy built about 1720, which in regular use until 1939." - Wikipedia – ermanen Dec 27 '17 at 20:20
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    Thanks ermanen for an excellent answer built on fantastic research. – RaceYouAnytime Dec 27 '17 at 23:52
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Just wondering whether the Oxford undergraduates' "six" was inspired by poor/deliberately bad Latin pronunciation.

In Italian, the word cesso (/'tʃɛs:o/ pronounced ‘chesso’) is a very informal expression for gabinetto (cabinet--->toilet). The word is derived from the Latin past participle of the verb cedere, cessus, in modern Italian “cessare”, which means to cease, withdraw from, stop doing something. Could the hard c in Latin have been mistaken for a soft one by English schoolboys? Moreover, the x in many Latin words was later represented by the letters ss.

An exchange of the sounds ss, or s and x, took place in axis for ‘assis’, laxus for ‘lassus’; […] In the later language of the vulgar, the guttural sound in x disappeared, and s or ss was often written for it; as vis for “vix*. vixit for ‘visit’. unsit for ‘unxit’, conflississet for ‘conflixisset’, in late Inscrr. (v. Corss. Ausspr. I. p. 297 sq.); hence regularly in Italian, and frequently in the other Romance tongues, the Lat. x is represented by s or ss.

A Latin Dictionary by Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short.

NB.
This is just an idea, and I am not an expert in Latin, so please feel free to correct my conjectures in the comments below. Yeah... and downvote the answer if it's really off the mark.

  • Interesting - I suppose a visit to the cesso ceases the need to go! I still think @JEL's suggestion of a play on the term privy six is the more likely explanation, however. – PrettyHands Dec 27 '17 at 13:42
  • @PrettyHands the idea behind it is you have to stop doing (cease) an activity because you need to go somewhere. – Mari-Lou A Dec 27 '17 at 13:45
  • Ah, I see! Perhaps the rest in restroom is analogous. – PrettyHands Dec 27 '17 at 13:51
  • Yes, pretty much, just as "to powder one's nose" was a euphemism. Moreover, "cesso" is quite vulgar in Italian, it is also used as an insult, = "crap" "disgusting" – Mari-Lou A Dec 27 '17 at 13:55
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    Interesting - I wonder if privy chamber and House of Commons were used as a way of disrespecting the Establishment. I've just found the following relevant pages in New Perspectives on English Historical Linguistics: Lexis and transmission: books.google.co.uk/… – PrettyHands Dec 27 '17 at 14:16
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A complete "stab in the dark", but could it meant he sixth room of a home? First two could be the formal front rooms (lounge/sitting room), then adult and child bedrooms, a kitchen makes five and six might be an outhouse or bathing room with a toilet? Water closet is another term used.

  • Believe it or not, someone else suggested the same thing to me a few days ago. However, the reference to six with the meaning of privy in The Routledge Dictionary of Slang dates back to 1870-1915, before the layout of the modern house was common. I like the inventiveness of the suggestion, but I feel that counts against it too. – PrettyHands Jul 16 '17 at 10:50

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