Monday, 23 June 2008


Les copio un artículo muy interesante y divertido sobre eufemismos sobre "ir al baño". Salió en el suplemento Books en el diario The Times, el día sábado 21 de junio de este año, página 16. Está escrito por Ben Macintyre.

(Las palabras o frases que están en italics o bold, las resalté yo)

Pueden leerlo aquí y/o guardarse el link a la nota.

MY GRANDFATHER, a former naval commander, used to announce that he intended to “go and pump ship”. My grandmother, however, was more likely to inquire if anyone needed to “spend a penny”, or disappear to “powder her nose”. My great-uncle, on the other hand, liked to scandalise his relatives by declaring loudly that he needed to “point Percy at the porcelain”.

Euphemisms for excretion - or “loophemisms” - are one of the most fertile areas of the English language. In his new book of euphemisms, Nigel Reees lists no less than 103 separate ways of saying the unsayable.

Englishmen and women will tie themselves in linguistic knots to avoid calling a toilet a toilet, or lavatory, or loo. There are more synonyms for this room than any other, ranging from blunt slang to fastidious genteelisms: WC, khazi, bog, thunder box, little house, chapel of ease, the usual offices, privy, rest room, the amenities, jakes, and thousands more.

Love of a good loophemism is (or was) a peculiarly British trait. No other language has such a rich stock of these phrases, for the lavatorial euphemism combines two profound national characteristics: a delight in word-play, and the ingrained belief that going to the loo is embarrassing and therefore extremely funny.

There was a time when every family, and even individuals within a single family, would have a different way of saying the same thing. Writers compete to mince words in this arena. John Betjeman would announce: “I need to go and stand up” (or “sit down”).

In Anthony Powell's Journals, guests are asked: “Do you want to put your hat straight?” In Time Must Have a Stop (1946) Aldous Huxley refers to “a place where even the King goes on foot - enfin, the toilet chamber”. This is one of the few examples of a lavatorial euphemism that crosses language boundaries to make a universal socio-political point. The French also refer to the room Ou le roi va seul and Russians announce they are going “where even the Tsar goes on foot”.

One strand of loophemism involves invoking some activity that one could not possibly be doing. Excuse me while I go and turn the vicar's bike around/see a man about a dog/look at the garden/water the horse.

Another subset subtly implies the activity itself. I need to drop the kids off at the pool/go and see a friend off to the coast/empty the teapot to make room for another cup.

Others do the same job more graphically: I am just going to bleed the lizard/squeeze the peach/wring out my socks/shake hands with my best friend, and so on.

Tracing the roots of lavatorial language is difficult, since such euphemisms tend to be flushed away almost as quickly as they are produced. The phrase to “go and pick a daisy” may refer to the floral patterns on Victorian chamber pots. To “go for a quick burst on the banjo” apparently refers to the Japanese word for loo: benjo.

The term to “go north”, much in vogue in the 1950s, may be traced to Noël Coward, who sang, in The Stately Homes of England: “And the lavatory makes you fear the worst/It was used by Charles the First/Quite informally/And later by George the Fourth/On the Journey North.” The origin of “spending a penny” is more obscure. I have long believed this phrase to be the legacy of a professional magician named Jasper Maskelyne. During the Second World War Maskelyne ran the “Magic Gang”, a motley group of conjurors and stage performers whose task it was to bamboozle the enemy by sleight of hand; before the war he invented the first coin-operated toilet door.

Rees, however, points out that we may have been spending a penny at least a century earlier. Toilets were provided at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851, costing one penny, and the first permanent public toilet opened in London four years later. Oddly, this euphemism has survived immune from inflation. According to the website, the cost of “spending a penny” should have risen to about 34p.

But while some loophemisms are evergreen, most seem oddly dated. During the war there was a boom in such locutions: a wartime wee was described as going to “check the blackout”, “go and see the man I joined up”, or even “go and telephone Hitler” - the latter phrase was particularly popular among members of the French Resistance.

Today, the parlour game of coining loophemisms may be dying out. No one powders their nose today, or puts their hat straight, let alone makes use of the coy little boy's/girl's room. Perhaps we no longer feel any need to skirt around the unmentionable, or squirt great clouds of verbal air-freshener through the smallest room in the house. Or perhaps we have just run out of ideas for one of the most euphemised activities in the world.

As George says in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, when asked by Honey where she may “put powder on her nose”: “Martha, won't you show her where we keep the...euphemism?”

A Man about a Dog: Euphemisms and other Examples of Verbal Squeamishness by Nigel Rees


Rod said...

I need to drop the kids off at the pool!
Hhahaha que gráfico!

Anonymous said...

Bravo, this brilliant phrase is necessary just by the way

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