Monday, July 30, 2007

Proper Use

There’s a sign on one of the stall doors in the ladies' room that says, “Please do not put paper towels in the commode.”

Who uses the word “commode” anymore? It sounds gross.

The word used to refer to a perfectly innocent washstand, then later came to mean the toilet. Of course, the word “toilet” itself used to mean – never mind, you get the idea. The object in question has tainted every euphemism ever applied to it; any object that serves an unmentionable function will do that. There's a linguistic term for this phenomenon, but I can't remember what it is, and Wikipedia is verboten at work, you know.

(Edited to add: It's called pejoration.)

So out comes an old friend I haven’t consulted in a while, the Merriam-Webster Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, ©1990.

com·mode \kə-‘mōd\ n [F, fr. commode, adj., suitable, convenient, fr. L commodus, fr. com- + modus measure – more at METE] (1688) 1: a woman’s ornate cap popular in the late 17th and early 18th centuries 2 a: a low chest of drawers b: a movable washstand with a cupboard underneath c: a boxlike structure holding a chamber pot under an open seat; also : CHAMBER POT d: TOILET 3b

I’m not sure what the ornate cap has to do with anything, since it doesn’t seem either suitable or convenient, though I suppose in a pinch you could use it as toilet paper. It looks kind of scratchy.

But I digress. The point I was getting to is that the word “accommodate” derives from the same source as the word “commode,” and therefore I feel it would be much more logical if from now on everyone agrees to define “accommodate” as meaning “to flush down the toilet.”

If you have any other suggestions, I’d be happy to accommodate them.

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At July 31, 2007 8:44 PM, Anonymous b.r. said...

Is that the exact wording of the sign in the ladies' room? I distinctly remember the one in the mens' room said, "Please do not PLACE paper towels in the commode." The word "commode" struck me as odd too, but it was the word "place" that really kinda pissed me off. I always got the image of the Phantom Pharter going in, selecting a paper towel, carefully dabbing the moisture off his hands, and then oh so deliberately "placing" the not crumpled towel squarely in the opening of the bowl. Then, just because I'm that way, I pictured him stepping back to admire his careful placement before lumbering off to burn some popcorn.

I'm sorry, but no one, no where, ever, "places" anything in a toilet or a trash can. You can toss it, throw it, drop it, squirt it, spray it, dump it or slam dunk it, but no matter what it is I guaran-goddam-tee that no one ever "places" anything in a toilet, not even if you try to sound all pretentious by calling it a commode.

At July 31, 2007 9:10 PM, Blogger Beth said...

Curses! You win this round of "Outblog the Blogger," b.r.! Oh, but I'll be back. I'll be back!

Just earlier today I noticed that the sign does indeed say "place," not "put," and as you so eloquently point out, this is a fairly important distinction.

I'm glad I wasn't drinking anything.

At July 31, 2007 10:21 PM, Anonymous b.r. said...



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