Have you ever been out at sea with a crew of sailors and heard them talk about ‘going to the head’? Maybe you have and wondered why the very same restroom on land is commonly known as the toilet, but out at sea it is called the ‘head’. Well, you’ve come to the right place, because we are about to take a journey in discovering why the lavatory at sea is referred to as the ‘head’.
So come along, and let us explore the history and development of the unique name sailors have given to the vessel lavatory!
Why Is a Bathroom Called a Head?In the world of nautical terms, a “head” is a euphemism for a toilet or restroom. But why are these latrines and lavatories referred to by this unique term?
In this blog, we’ll dive deep into the origins of this interesting euphemism, explore the context of its usage, and point out some interesting examples!
The Nautical Origins of the TermThe term “head” dates back to the days of the sailing ships.
Many centuries ago, sailors would use a chamber pot called a “thunder pot” or “chamber stove” to relieve themselves while at sea. The chamber pot was then emptied into the “t’gallants’” (upper galleries) into the “head” of the ship.
Because of the changing nature of the seas, the “head” was the most easily accessible area of the ship when it was time to empty the chamber pot.
Consequently, the area of the ship where the sailors went to use the thunder pot came to be referred to as the “head. ”As time passed, this term began to be used more broadly to denote any type of restroom on a ship, including the heads of the ship after modifications allowed for freshwater restroom facilities.
Examples of the Usage of the TermNowadays, the term “head” can be used to refer to any type of restroom, not just those on a ship. Here are some examples of the term in action:
- We’ll make a pit stop before getting back on the road to use the head.
- This campsite has pretty nice heads.
- Make sure to use the head before boarding the plane.
Other Nautical Terms Used for the BathroomWhile the head is by far the most common term for the bathroom, there are a few other nautical terms used to describe a restroom:
- The powder room – derived from the need to keep gunpowder away from open flames
- The Latrine – derived from a Roman term for a place used as a toilet
- The lavatory – derived from the French term for a wash-place.