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10th Jun 2024

People are only just learning what WC toilet sign actually means

Ryan Price

‘I’ve been wondering this for years but never googled it.’

We’ve all seen signs for the toilets in a public place and noticed the initials WC, but do any of us actually know what it stands for?

In most UK bars, restaurants and public areas, the location of a restroom is either signified by the word ‘toilet’ and an arrow pointing in it’s direction, a male, female, or all inclusive stick figure, or the initials WC.

Many of us glance around a room until we see one of the above and then walk briskly towards it so that we can carry out our business.

This seems to be such a common occurence, that people online are only now starting to ask the question: what does WC stand for?

I’ll admit that I never truly pondered the question, and that my first thought went to ‘wheelchair’ considering there’s always a disabled toilet in close proximity to the others.

However, as much as I thought that was a perfectly fine guess, it’s nowhere near the correct answer.

A TikTok user by the name of @itsnathannyc revealed the answer when responding to a question from a follower.

In the clip, which has been viewed over 3,500 times, broke down what the common term stands for.

The TikToker explained: Before indoor plumbing, we actually had a room for the bathtub, a bathroom.

“But the spout was outside. You had to carry water in in a bucket, heat it up, pour it in the tub,” he added.

“Indoor plumbing comes along and there is already a room with a bath, the bathroom, so where do you put the toilet?

“Just put it in a closet, that’s the easiest place to put a toilet.”

And there we have it. WC stands for ‘water closet’.

The revelation led to a thread of comments underneath the video from people exclaiming their surprise and elation at finally knowing what the common abbreviation stands for.

One user wrote: “I’m glad someone asked because I’ve been wondering this for years but never googled it.”

Another said: “I was 23 y/o when I learned that WC is called water closet.”

For any history buffs reading this, here’s a more detailed account of how the humble water closet came to be.

Old House Online states: “In the 1870s, most folks did their business—as infrequently as possible—in two ways: in a hole in the ground, or in a chamber pot (often concealed in a ‘commode,’ ‘cabinet chair,’ or box-like ‘close stool’). A ‘toilet’ was just a dressing table or washstand, a meaning that eventually got flushed away when water closets adopted the moniker.

“In the 1880s, the earliest flushing water closets were made to resemble familiar chamber pots and commodes. However, it wasn’t long before folks discovered that wood, water, and other (ahem) stuff didn’t mix. Those great bathroom suites of Gilded Age mansions were heaven to behold, but hell to maintain, and by the late 1880s, “open plumbing” was coming into vogue, with porcelain fixtures in full view.”

So, while the old, cramped and closeted style of the water closet didn’t remain, and transformed over time into the spacious, tiled bathrooms we enjoy today, the phrase ‘water closet’ has stuck and remains on signage worldwide to this day.

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