The C of CR
Restroom, bathroom, toilet, loo, CR — these terms reflect the diversity of World Englishes.
In American English, “restroom” tends to refer to a public toilet and a bathroom to a private one. In Canadian English, the bathroom is also used to refer to a private toilet, while a public one can be a washroom.
Then you have the intriguing WC or Water Closet in Britain, originally referring to a flush toilet. Then there’s the loo. Next time you’re going to London, sign up with lootours.com to look at their public toilets, with so many theories about the loo’s origins from Waterloo — a brand of iron cisterns used for toilets — to the French “le lieu” meaning “the place” or, still French, the practice in the 17th and 18th centuries when people still emptied chamber pots (the orinola) into the streets while hollering “Gardez l’eau” (Watch out, water coming!).
All said, “toilet” is actually a safe word to use in many countries, including Japan, which has “japanified” so many English words and revolutionized the toilet seat with heaters and music, and reminds us the toilet is a product of modernity. “Toilet” comes from the French toile meaning a cloth or wrapper, and no, not because you wrap something but because you went into a room to dress, thus toilet. The toilet, too, is where you wash, thus the terms washroom and lavatory, the latter from lavar, to wash.
Which takes us to our multipurpose CRs, where you might want to be snooty and say “I’m making lava” rather than “Nagla-
laba ako” (I’m doing laundry).
CR or comfort room was a term originally used in the United States with the Oxford English Dictionary noting that its earliest report was in the Santa Fe Daily New Mexico and the word’s original meaning, “a room in a public building or workplace furnished with amenities such as facilities for resting, personal hygiene, and storage of personal items (now rare); (later) a public toilet (now chiefly Philippine English).” The Americans brought the term over and while its use, linguistically, disappeared in the United States we’ve kept it for more than a century now.
Alas, our CRs are often not quite comforting, being dirty and smelly, and that applies to public and private ones. We can be meticulous about our personal hygiene preferring the tabo or a bidet, and worrying about MacArthur, the stuff that returns when you flush and the water pressure is inadequate to complete the flush. But when it comes to toilet maintenance, it’s always someone else’s responsibility. I tell you, this important responsibility is something we overlook in child-rearing, especially with sons: please flush, please wipe, please mop (for boy humans and boy dogs).
World Toilet Day
But we should be happy if we even have access to an uncomforting CR. The UN pegs Nov. 19 as World Toilet Day to underscore the need to provide more toilets. For starters, 4.5 billion or 60 percent of the world’s population “have no toilets at home or one that safely manages excreta” and 862 million still use open defecation or, in Philippine English, the flying saucer system, as in wrap and throw like a Frisbee with no one warning “Gardez l’eau.”
The UN takes toilets seriously, a package deal that isn’t just about the toilet bowl, but about how the waste is disposed and processed. Companies like Manila Water don’t just provide water but also have to deal with waste and wastewater.
The CR itself is, of course, important. We’re notorious for flush toilets that don’t flush and are dependent on the buhos system, which is waiting to be converted into a physics research project: Just how much force do you need with what volume of water and with what angle of flushing to succeed without a MacArthur and without getting yourself wet?
Dirty toilets don’t just assault the eyes and noses; in fact, the serious problems are with what you don’t see and smell. When a North Korean soldier recently made a bold defection, doctors in South Korea marveled at how he survived four bullets … and lots of parasites, one as long as 11 inches, which was used to highlight the dismal living conditions in North Korea.
Back here in the Philippines, the bloated bellies you find among urban poor kids are almost always from intestinal worms, which are easily passed on from one person to another in part because of the lack of toilet facilities, plus the kids running around barefoot and picking up the ova or eggs of the parasites. The often-cited problem of 30 percent of our children being stunted isn’t just about nutrition but about intestinal “boarders,” and even the upper classes can be affected.
Gender and toilets
I found out about World Toilet Day reading on how no less than Chinese President Xi Jinping ordering all public toilets to be upgraded as part of his commitment to improving living standards. Central government has allocated $152 million just to upgrade toilets in tourist sites.
Women in China will find comfort in a directive from the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development now requiring new standards to address the gender inequities in toilets. The government conducted a survey of 720,000 people’s toilet habits, finding out, for example, that women spent an average of 89 seconds in public toilets while men spent 39, leading to the traffic that we also see in our local CRs.
The South China Morning Post wrote on the gender-and-toilet problems, headlining the article “Loo-dicrous” and how the new standards call for a ratio of two women’s toilets for each men’s toilet in areas like malls, and a ratio of three women’s toilets to two men’s toilets in other areas.
Certainly, our toilet problems are more than just putting in toilet bowls and water systems. Access has so many equity issues. Good toilets should also have diaper-changing facilities in both men’s and women’s restrooms.
Last Sunday, I ran into UP Diliman industrial engineering students conducting a survey in Naia3, and wondered if maybe they can do one on the gender aspects of our CRs, starting with our airports.
There should also be ways to improve access for kids. Taking the cue from mothers who bring their younger sons with them into the women’s toilets, I have sometimes brought my younger daughters into the men’s toilets so I can help, and guard them rather than leaving them to fend for themselves in the other room.
The logistics for public toilet access are even more complicated for the elderly and people with disabilities. There are often no ramps for wheelchairs and toilet entrances, whether in public places or at home, are usually too narrow for wheelchairs and walkers.
It’s just as well then that we keep the term CR, if at least to be more conscious about how such facilities should be safe, convenient … and truly comforting.
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