privy = latrine = privy?

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Tue Jul 7 15:43:02 UTC 2009

Help!  I'm sure this has been talked about before -- especially re
"toilet" -- but:

Why does the OED define
      privy noun B.I.1. as "a latrine",
and then define
      latrine 1. as a "privy"?

I will concede that the fuller B.I.1. definition of "privy" is "A
lavatory (in later use esp. one situated outside or without
plumbing); a latrine".  But "lavatory" leads one down the wrong path,
to washing, and only "subsequently also including water-closets, etc.
In the 20th c. one of the more usual words for a W.C." (lavatory, 4.).

And "water-closet" = "a privy [!], and furnished with water-supply to
flush the pan and discharge its contents into a waste-pipe below."

As for "toilet", the sense of apparatus does not seem to appear at
all -- despite the fact that many of the compounds/combinations apply
only to that sense -- e.g. -bucket, lid, seat, stall, tank, paper
(for which there is another evasion: "(b) for use in lavatories"),
roll, tissue, -training.

If one didn't know already what one of these four words meant, what
elucidation would one receive?  Why is the OED so oblique (obscure,
reticent, ...) about function?



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