Friday, September 19, 2014

Interview, Toilets and Allergies

I interviewed for another part time (29 hours a week) secretarial position on Tuesday. I had had three hours of sleep the night before, and was grateful the interviewing supervisor did most of the talking, telling me about the history of the organization and things I might deal with should I be hired. Really nice folks, doing practical science instruction within the community.  I was the first person interviewed, and arrived absurdly early (half an hour) because I knew given my lack of sleep I shouldn't be rushed.  Somehow (God's grace), I remained conscious and after the interview managed to get several errands run.

Most of the last week I've averaged about four hours of sleep a night. Just last night, when I'd gotten totally jittery (I am not a person who does well on so little rest), I managed to eke out nine hours--did a world of good.  Hope I can repeat the feat!

For some reason, I spent the earlier part of the week thinking about how to teach an English lesson to speakers of other languages on the subject of bathrooms, and some confusing vocabulary associated with them.  I attribute this peculiar interest to my lack of sleep, the fact that I need to replace the lightbulb in my master WC, and the amusing anachronism of everyone in "historical" Asian dramas being neatly washed, with good teeth and living in cities with no sanitation issues.  Also, the book I am reading about the Korean War emphasizes how dirty the country was, how the whole place stank of sewage, as human waste was collected and used as agricultural fertilizer.  The author points out that Americans of the early nineteenth century could have handled the experience more easily than those of the mid-twentieth, who were used to standard indoor plumbing.

In Korean, the word (피)"pee" means rain, or blood. For us Americans, the word is a cleaned-up derivation of the old word "piss" (deriving all the way from the vulgar Latin).  In American English, "to piss" is a somewhat rude way of saying "to urinate," but if we say someone "is pissed", we are not referring to their private toilet activities, but saying they are angry (PO'd being the short form of "pissed off").  In British English, however, "getting or being pissed" refers to becoming intoxicated with alcohol.  Slang is a funny thing.

So are euphemisms.  The British use the term WC to refer to the toilet. This is an acronym for "water closet", which was a name for the indoor plumbing which replaced traditional outhouses and chamber pots.  They also use the word "loo", whose origins are mysterious (the most plausible theory being it derives from the name of an early toilet manufacturer).

We Americans are often unnecessarily squeamish about the word "toilet", which for us refers to the flushable appliance alone, not the room which houses it.  As guests in someone's house, we usually ask for the location of the "restroom," or the "bathroom," or even the "powder room," though we do not intend to rest, bathe, or refresh our makeup in the place.  Part of this is the influence of our standard architecture--in American houses, it is normal for the toilet and the tub to occupy the same space, along with a sink (in public, dropping the place noun entirely, we will often inquire as to where one can find the "ladies'", or the "men's", as usually there have been separate facilities for each sex).  This is not true elsewhere.  It took me over a year of studying Russian to realize that they used no euphemism, and asking for the "bathroom" would get me the room with the tub in it, which was usually apart from the room with the toilet in it. "Toilet" was "toilet", there was no getting around it.

Of course, historically, before the invention of indoor plumbing, the classic outhouse and chamber pot were the only means of personal waste disposal, and the French word "toilette" referred to a lady's personal preparations for the day--brushing her hair, powdering, choosing her jewelry, and applying perfume (a costly necessity for the wealthy in those noxious times), a dilute version of which is still called "eau de toilette" or "toilet water"--which isn't the gross stuff a person learning modern English would necessarily think of, reading the bottle!  Another seemingly rude but entirely innocent term is the American use of "being pooped" to talk about being tired--it doesn't have anything to do with "poop", a polite, if juvenile word for excrement.

Also confusing for English learners are the prepositions used with "toilet": If one says a person is "on the toilet" it means they are sitting on top of the appliance, relieving themselves (so this is not said in polite society).  If you say a person is "in the toilet" it means they have either accidentally fallen into the water-filled bowl, or, in J.K. Rowling's world, have stepped into it deliberately, preparatory to flushing themselves into the Ministry of Magic (so, again, not said often).  If a person has gone to use the toilet, in the US you say "she went to the bathroom" or "he's in the restroom" or something similar, usually avoiding the word "toilet." We're weird that way.  Of course, in moments of emergency, looking pained and merely saying the word "toilet", though non-standard, can get both an American and a non-native English speaker where they need to go!

On to cleaner topics...  I thought about entitling this post "Allergies: Because Breathing Is Overrated," as for weeks I have been having increasing trouble with my lungs, and have only been able to sleep with a generic antihistamine.  Now, I know why.  The colony of dust bunnies beneath my bed had formed an independent state, with its own constitution, courts and caste system, and had dispatched colonies of its own to the periphery of my bedroom. Now that I am no longer away from home 70 hours a week, I have gathered enough energy to tackle the Dust Bunny Insurgency, and since Tuesday have vacuumed, dusted and vacuumed again. Already, I can breathe easier, and the weight which felt like it was sitting on top of my chest has gotten lighter.  I've stripped all the linens off my mattress, and while I'd like to get a good night's sleep again tonight, I may be up to the wee hours doing laundry.


gnutron said...

I prefer the term "shitter," as it can mean both the shit receptacle as well as the room in which the shit receptacle is located. Interestingly, the same fixture can also be referred to as a "pisser," depending on what an individual's excretory intentions are.

gnutron said...

Those with sensibilities may prefer the term "crapper," which has a legitimate historical pedigree. You can't refer to the shitter as a "pooper," though, since that's a synonym for asshole.

KYP said...

And the French have the "pissoir", or urinal. Perhaps I should have entitled the post "Potty Language" for clarity. Koreans and Japanese folks, if their television shows are any indication, seem totally OK with excretion-related humor, which we don't usually have except in "gross out" comedies...