A Bunch of Crap!

You may be under the impression that an Englishman named Thomas Crapper invented the toilet. Sorry – that’s an urban legend.

Flushing toilets go back to Elizabeth I’s time, and for centuries before that it was common to build latrines over rivers or streams, or with a some sort of water storage tank to flush the waste away.

Crapper DID start the most famous toilet company in the UK, and he invented the floating ballcock, the little floating ball in the tank that turns the incoming water off when the tank water reaches a specific level. However, many other mechanisms had been around before that.

The interesting thing about all this is, the slang term “crap” has different origins in the US and UK.

In the UK, the word “crap” comes from Middle English, probably from crappe, which is thought to come from either the Dutch krappen (to pluck off, cut off, or separate) and\or the Old French crappe (siftings or unwanted matter). It referred to bits of loose grain that were inevitably trod on in storage, like a barn. Over time, it came to mean anything worthless in British English, and wasn’t an especially popular slang term at that.

In the United States, there is no record of the word “crap” existing before World War I: not a single known written example. However, 2 million American GIs were sent to the UK to fight against Germany, and these soldiers saw the “Crapper” name on seemingly EVERY British toilet.

Dutch krappen (to pluck off, cut off, or separate) and the Old French crappe (siftings, waste or rejected matter

His name was as ubiquitous on toilets as “American Standard” or “Sloan” is on American urinals. So GIs started calling all toilets “crappers”, which eventually became multiple terms, like “taking a crap” or the word “crap” itself for waste, which of course itself became a polite euphemism for something not very good, as in “The National’s latest album was crap”.

One Reply to “A Bunch of Crap!”

  1. Jim, your dedication to diving into the depths of toilet lore deserves a round of applause—or should I say, a royal flush!

    Keep up the fantastic work, and may your future articles continue to keep us in the know of things we never thought we would learn while we ponder life’s more… porcelain mysteries.

    With overflowing gratitude,


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