loo (was: Come off the money (= get off the dime?))

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Wed Apr 17 13:12:16 UTC 2002

In a message dated Mon, 15 Apr 2002 12:24:32 PM Eastern Daylight Time, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU> writes:

>>I've often heard "spend a penny" (UK contexts), maybe older in origin
>>but fossilized (a coprolith? a cuprolith? ;-)\ ). But I've never seen
>>"lieu", only "loo"!
>True, but I nominate it as an excellent reanalysis:  lieu < Waterlieu
>'place of water', as in where Napoleon got (metaphorically) drenched.

I used "lieu" in place of "loo" for a reason.  As far as I know, in Britain "loo" (when referring to public facilities) means either the entire restroom or an individual toilet.  How to refer to what in the US is called a "pay booth" presented a problem, since it appeared to lie between the two meanings of "loo".  Hence "lieu" (French for "place") seemed to fit.

(Somebody who pays the rental for use of a pay booth is therefore a "lieu tenant"??)

I have no idea what is the etymology of "loo", but for sheer imagery I prefer to think it comes from "gardez-loo", which is what people would yell (so I'm told, I wasn't there) in the old days before emptying a chamber pot out the window.  The etymology of "gardez-loo" is unclear---I have seen suggested both "gardez l'eau" ("watch out for the water") and "gardez lieu" ("watch where you're standing").

Does anybody know the origin of the name "Waterloo"?  The village of Waterloo appears to be in a French-speaking area of Belgium, considering that important places on the battlefield had names like Mont-Saint-Jean, Chateau de Hougomont, l'Haye Saint, and the strangely prophetic "La Belle Alliance" (I don't have a reference handy to check the spellings).  The "w" and "oo" in "Waterloo" are definitely not French.  (But not too far away is the initial-w town of "Wavre", which also played an important part in the battle.)  An obvious guess is "Wasser-lieu", a Dutch-French hybrid meaning "place of water", but then how did it acquire such an Anglicized spelling?  Or did Wellington (who spoke French but not Dutch) manage to misspell the name?

I remember the glee at our elementary-school bus stop when someone left an educational comic book about "Waterloo" lying on the ground and a dog micturated on it.

       - Jim Landau (who thinks that Chambronne made both of the speeches attributed to him)

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