Archives For Toilet

Dangerous Slang

July 2, 2013 — 15 Comments

toilet 2When we moved to Alabama, my wife innocently offended some of her young students by using a slang word that in our family simply meant “stuff,” but apparently is used elsewhere for more vulgar purposes.

In a reference to something such as things being in the way, she said the word “crap.” Obviously she was definitely not using it in the Thomas Crapper sense. But some of the Southern kids had never heard it applied in an innocent way, so they naturally assumed she was using it in a crasser sense.

She wasn’t. I grew up with the word meaning “junk, stuff or clutter” with the connotation that they were unwelcome, and “in the way.” My sainted mother—from whose lips I do not ever once recall hearing a vulgar word pass—used the word “crap” often.

And because the source of the word’s usage was so pure and unadulterated (my mom), I mistakenly assumed I fully understood the word’s meaning.

Still, old habits are hard to change, and I find myself occasionally using that very word. And, I must confess, I sometimes even use it as a minor expression of irritation. For example, I just used it in the subject line of an email I sent to some fellow students of ancient Roman history. “Crap, I Just Missed This” was the exact phrase, and the body of the message consisted only of a link to a fascinating conference held in Rome just a few days before I learned about it.

The link was to this site. . . and if you don’t have the time or inclination to check it out, allow me to share the fascinating subject it addressed:

It was sponsored by the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome, quite a prestigious organization. No fewer than seven scholars who have been excavating Rome’s ancient latrines were slated to speak—I’m eager to learn whether or not their presentations will be published for the benefit of those of us unable to attend.* They generously offered “free seating” to members of the public desiring to attend the historic programme.**

C.S. Lewis apparently respected the Roman Empire enough to take the Roman name of an ancient Italian city for the name of fabled “Narnia.” While I’ve yet to find any references in Lewis’ corpus to Roman plumbing, I found this appraisal of a History of Rome which he noted in his diary (16 March 1924). During an extended country walk with two friends, he dined at an inn and browsed through its public library.

After some time we went on to Stanton Harcourt where we were to lunch. Before we reached it the sun suddenly disappeared and the sky got white and a cold wind sprang up. In the inn parlour we consumed large quantities of bread and cheese and draft cider. Harwood found a delightful book here—a History of Rome “related in conversations by a father to his children with instructive comments”. The children made such comments as “How pleasing is filial piety, Papa!” and “My dear Sir, surely you have been too indulgent in describing the vices of Honorius as weakness.”

One wonders what sort of refined comments the children would have made about the recent conference. Perhaps something like, “Most honored patriarch, it is enlightening to learn just how elaborate was the attention the Romans devoted to the facilities dedicated to their private bodily functions.”

Well, enough about such matters. We have terribly digressed in a post originally intended to serve as a warning about the dangers of using slang. I guess I am just so disappointed about missing the conference that I needed to vent that here.

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* One wonders how they were able to adequately address this complex subject in a one-day seminar.

toilet 1** The invitation does not expressly say whether it would consist of individual seats, or in a bench design, similar to that pictured below, from the workshop’s brochure. Speaking of pictures, the one at the top of the column, also from the promotional publication, is a fresco from the ceiling of a toilet on the Palatine. (And we think our bathrooms are fancy!)

Human Filth

June 6, 2013 — 14 Comments

washI’m writing this from lovely Saint Louis. It’s a “far piece” from my home in Puget Sound, but I love it here. My wife and I spent two years just across the Mississippi, at Scott Air Force Base.

I’m here to begin study for my Doctor of Ministry degree, and it’s off to a grand beginning. As I said, I like Saint Louis, and Concordia Seminary has a first class faculty.

The only problem about coming here was precisely that . . . the process of getting here.

I hate flying these days. This trip was particularly trying. I wasn’t troubled by the fact that both my first flight and my connection were more than an hour behind their scheduled departures. (Although they were.) Nor was I troubled by being selected (once again) for a full body scan. (Must be due to using my military ID rather than a driver’s license that could more easily be counterfeited.)

Nor was it because the airline misplaced my luggage and was reluctant to give me an overnight toiletry kit until I insisted that although a hotel would offer me a toothbrush, what I really wanted to ensure I had the first day of class was deodorant. (They got the last laugh by giving me a bar of Lady Speed Stick; let me assure you that the elegant Powder Fresh scent turned more than one head that day in class.)

No, what really disturbed me as I traveled was encountering filthy people in the restrooms I used as I traveled across the continent. By filthy, I mean those disgusting people who choose not to wash their hands. When I observe 50% of the men exiting the bathroom without pausing to use one of the many available sinks, it’s all I can do not to say something. It makes me want to call up their aged parents and ask how they managed to raise such a disgusting son.

I love animals, and just this week I’ve seen dogs, cats, rabbits and deer grooming themselves. They have better manners and hygiene than the pigs I’m talking about here. Yes, they are disgusting enough for me to refer to them as swine . . .  although pigs are only being true to their nature, when homo sapiens are supposed to possess a higher character.

C.S. Lewis was writing about the shortcomings of only doing what is right because it is mandated, but it has a slight bearing on the disgust I’ve described above.

We do not wish either to be, or to live among, people who are clean or honest or kind as a matter of duty: we want to be, and to associate with, people who like being clean and honest and kind. The mere suspicion that what seemed an act of spontaneous friendliness or generosity was really done as a duty subtly poisons it. (English Literature in the Sixteenth Century).

While Lewis is certainly correct that insincerity strips kindness and honesty of their virtuous essence—when it comes to cleanliness, I’m willing to settle for the “forced” variety!

Well, enough about human filth. I just needed to get that out of my system. Parents, please teach your children better than this. And ladies, please don’t dispel my naïve notion that 100% of women clean up after using their facilities.

Please forgive me for this disgusting post, and I promise that my next column will be much more pleasant and edifying.