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Why is it Called a “Lavatory?”

I flew in an airplane over the weekend, a small one of about 80 seats, meaning there was one pilot, one copilot, two flight attendants and two bathrooms.

Uh, sorry, lavatories.

I have never understood why airplane bathrooms are called lavatories. So, I looked it up.

Lavatory is a British term that started as the Latin lavatus, a form of the Latin lavare meaning “to wash.” It evolved into the Middle Latin lavatorium and then the Middle English lavatorie. It means “a vessel (as a basin) for washing” and “a room with conveniences for washing and usually with one or more toilets.” Which is exactly what you find in those tiny-enough-to-be-closets airplane rooms.

Now, I could go into the problem that we call these rooms bathrooms even when there is no bath (or shower) in it, or that we call them restrooms when you’re really not resting (especially if you’re constipated!), or why they’re not just called toilet rooms, but I’ll stop there.

Until next time! Use the right words!

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March 15, 2016 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , ,


  1. I’m sorry Lee, but your comment is missing important context. The issue here is that the words are all older than indoor plumbing. There was a time that “toilet room” was correct terminology because that function happened in a space separate from washing or resting, whether it was an outhouse style pit or bucket toilet or an attached indoor space with the same. Anything resembling modern indoor plumbing with toileting and washing facilities in the same space is probably no more than 150 years old. BTW, there are still places in America where women’s restrooms actually have chairs and even couches. Menstruation and pregnancy still sometimes create discomfort and feeling ill in a way that makes comfortable access to toilets and running water desirable.


    Comment by Dorothy Hoffman | March 15, 2016 | Reply

  2. Thank you for providing the context, Dorothy. I welcome such additions.


    Comment by usingtherightwords | March 15, 2016 | Reply

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