Speak Up explains: W.C.

Sapete perché in italiano chiamiamo “la tazza del bagno” water? E il bagno W.C.? Quella parola che noi pronunciamo “vater” non è altro che l’inglese per “acqua” (la cui pronuncia sapete essere molto diversa). Ecco la storia…

Mark Worden (Standard British accent)

One English word which has had a particularly interesting life in Italian is the word water, which of course the Italians call “acqua,” but they also use the word water when referring to the part of the bathroom where one performs one’s bodily functions(1) and they call it “Il water,” which is a nice and amusing mispronunciation (2) of water, but unfortunately it’s a bit of a mistake because the English, if you say water, they refer to “acqua,” the… the liquid that we all drink happily, although there is the expression, actually, in English, “to pass water,” which is a… a euphemism for – excuse me – to urinate. What the English actually say when referring to the bathroom is the water closet (3), or WC which, curiously, in Italian is also used; the WC, but the English tend not to say WC anymore, or indeed water closet. It’s considered a little sort of uncomfortable as an expression, and they’re more likely to say (4) “loo,” and “loo” is a word which is, again, full of mystery. Nobody really knows where it comes from, but they think it might actually come from Waterloo, which could have been, possibly, a euphemism for water closet.
Now, the discussion of bathrooms leads to some interesting sociological and linguistic variations. There are some people in England who think that the term toilet or water closet or WC is a little infra dig. (5), it’s what they call “non-U,” it’s… it’s almost vulgar, and “polite”(6) people prefer to say the loo or the bathroom, and if you say toilet or WC, you’re considered a little sort of vulgar. This is pure linguistic snobbery, which can only happen in… in the United Kingdom. However, there’s an even more amusing example, and that is from the United States. The Americans are far more sort of embarrassed about the concept of going to the bathroom or going to the loo, and they even use the term restroom (7), which the British try and… find terribly funny. I mean, the idea is that you desperately need to rest, so you have to rush off to the restroom. So there are some linguistic insights into the world of bodily functions.


1    one performs one’s bodily functions: uno esegue le proprie funzioni corporee
2    amusing mispronunciation: divertente errore di pronuncia
3    water closet: lett. stanzino dell’acqua (il luogo in cui c’era il vaso sanitario)
4    they’re more likely to say: è più probabile che dicano
5    infra dig: poco dignitoso (latino)
6    polite: educato
7    restroom: lett. stanza del riposo

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