I was watching an American show called Breaking Bad and they use this phrase:

Can I use your John’s?

to mean

Can I use your toilet?

As it stands the origin has been mentioned here, courtesy to @Jason Bassford and @user067531 in the comments below, but I feel it doesn’t adequately discuss why the particular name John is used, only on a probability that it is linked to the archaic euphemism of “Jack’s” to mean toilets.

What I’m asking goes deeper: it is why Jack or John have been used as euphemisms to refer to a toilet in particular?

Why Jack or John as euphemisms, can toilets only be euphemistically named after names beginning with J?

Also for clarification, several sources on its etymology say different things and it’s mostly speculation. Since that linked “similar” question was asked in 2011, I was hoping for more insightful answers. Perhaps modern usage of these phrases has also changed over time, and hence its meaning, so it will be interesting to learn about those too, if any.

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    Possible duplicate of Why is a bathroom sometimes called a "john"? Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 5:56
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    Jack is, for some reason, a nickname for John in the US. And that question too has been asked on EL&U. I'm sorry but you're unlucky here :) You need to do some research before posting etymological questions
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 6:20
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    For instance... The Jacks: In Ireland, ‘the jacks’ means ‘toilet’, most commonly used to refer to public bathrooms. Every Irish person knowns what this term means, but few know why they use it – indeed it’s difficult to find a solid explanation. Some believe it to be derived from the Tudor English term ‘jakes’, first used in the 16th century. waterfordwhispersnews.com/2015/09/29/…
    – user 66974
    Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 6:27
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    @Mari-LouA Jack was the traditional nickname for John in England too (thought to derive from the mediaeval Jankin), though nowadays it has become an independent name. Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 7:40
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    In the US, 'jack' is never used for 'toilet', despite its connection with 'john' which is sometimes used for 'toilet'. As to the 'jack's in Ireland, UK and elsewhere, I have no experience.
    – Mitch
    Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 11:58

1 Answer 1


The article below describes the origin of the flush toilet by **John Harington and also references the Elizabethan slang for Toilet which was the Jakes It is not a great leap of imagination to link Jakes with Jack's, especially with Irish pronunciation where I believe it is the common term for the toilet History.com Therefore it looks like the terms John and Jacks are not derived from the same source albeit that Jack is a commonly used nickname for John

The first modern flushable toilet was described in 1596 by Sir John Harington, an English courtier and the godson of Queen Elizabeth I. Harington’s device called for a 2-foot-deep oval bowl waterproofed with pitch, resin and wax and fed by water from an upstairs cistern. Flushing Harington’s pot required 7.5 gallons of water—a veritable torrent in the era before indoor plumbing. Harington noted that when water was scarce, up to 20 people could use his commode between flushes. Harington described his device in a satirical pamphlet entitled ‘A New Discourse on a Stale Subject, called the Metamorphosis of Ajax”—a pun on the term “a jakes,” which was a popular slang term for toilets. Although Harington installed a working model for Queen Elizabeth at Richmond Palace, it took several centuries—and the Industrial Revolution’s improvements in manufacturing and waste disposal — for the flush toilet to catch on.

In 1775 English inventor Alexander Cumming was granted the first patent for a flush toilet. His greatest innovation was the S-shaped pipe below the bowl that used water to create a seal preventing sewer gas from entering through the toilet. In the late-19th century, a London plumbing impresario named Thomas Crapper manufactured one of the first widely successful lines of flush toilets. Crapper did not invent the toilet, but he did develop the ballcock, an improved tank-filling mechanism still used in toilets today.

  • Fun fact: John Harington is the ancestor of Kit Harington, who played Jon Snow in Game of Thrones. Kit Harington didn't need to make it big because, owing to John Harington's invention, he was already obscenely rich through his family. Anyway, while "Jon" is a different spelling, but it's kind of funny that his success came through that name being that his however-many-times grandfather invented the john. Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 11:34
  • @ Benjamin Harman wow that is a real interesting and to have the same family name is unusual usually these family links are so tenuous that you cannot follow them.
    – Brad
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 12:55

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