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A Matter of Convenience

GLOSSARY

A-C

Bucket privy
A facility in which the user defecates or urinates into a bucket or other vessel placed beneath the toilet seat. The contents may be covered with ashes or sand at the time of use. From time to time, the contents of the vessel are removed and disposed of by burial, disposition in a midden, or by some other means.
Cesspit, cesspool
A pit, pool, or tank (often under a privy) into which human waste is deposited for temporary or permanent storage. Unlike the case of a septic tank, no sewage treatment is intended. The pit is either emptied periodically or abandoned when full.
Chamberpot
"The eventual repository of the contents of [every other ceramic form]" (Beaudry, 67). .A relatively small vessel of metal, ceramic, or some other material used for the deposition of human waste, particularly urine. Particularly useful on a cold night when the privy is outdoors. [Picture]
Cholera
A very dangerous disease (characterized by high fever, diarrhea, and dehydration) spread by feces-contaminated drinking water. Major epidemics during the 19th century killed hundreds of thousands of people.
Cistern
A pit dug in the ground for the storage of water, particularly rainwater. [Picture]
Closestool
A piece of furniture with a lid and seat used with a chamberpot as an indoor bucket privy.
 

 

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D-F

Delftware
A form of ceramic developed in Delft, Holland, which uses a tin glaze to provide an attractive near-white appearance.
Dysentery, flux
A number of diseases (caused by bacteria, protozoans, or other parasites) characterized by violent gastrointestinal upset, excessive or uncontrollable defecation, and dehydration. Usually spread by contaminated water or food.
Earthenware
A basic, inexpensive form of pottery.
Eastern-style toilet
A sanitary facility which the user -- male or female -- must stand or squat to use. Consists primarily of a hole in the floor. [Picture]
Effluent
Liquid sewage (often treated to reduce its disease potential), including liquid human waste and liquid products of decomposition, together with dissolved and suspended solids.
Flush toilet, water closet
A human waste disposal facility, most recently invented by Sir John Harington which relies on a flow of water to remove the urine or feces deposited by the user. Today's toilets rely on a siphonic action in the bowl to pull the waste out from below. Earlier designs, such as the model forever associated with Thomas Crapper, relied on a strong rush of water from an overhead cistern to wash the waste away.
Flux
An older term for dysentery.
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G-I

Garderobe
An indoor facility which disposes of waste down a shaft or exterior port, either to a cesspit or directly into the environment. Commonly used in medieval castles and other structures. [Picture]
Gardy loo!
Cry of Scottish housewives when dumping their cooking slops or chamberpots out an upper-floor window overlooking a public street or byway. Probably derives from French "Gardez l'eau," "Watch out for the water." [Picture]
Gong fermor
Medieval term (derived from Anglo-Saxon) for a "nightman," one who cleans privies and hauls away their contents.
House of Office
A euphemistic name for an outhouse or privy. This was the common term used in documents from Port Royal. [Picture]
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J-L

Latrine, Latrina
Latrina is the common Latin term for a toilet facility, now "Englished" as latrine. The Latrina at Ephesus in Asia Minor is one of the best preserved ancient sanitary facilities. [Picture]
Lavatories
Primarily a "washing facility," such as a bath, but also used euphemistically for toilets.
Liquefaction
A process by which formerly-firm soil can turn into quicksand. This often happens during an earthquake, when wet sand grains that are loosely bound together flow over one another, depriving anything (and anybody) standing on the surface of all support. Liquefaction was a major factor in the destruction of Port Royal in 1692.
Loo
A British colloquialism for a toilet, perhaps derived from "Gardy loo!"
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M-O

Midden
A refuse heap. A privy midden is a heap of human waste, a dunghill, deposited either directly or by the emptying of privies or chamberpots.
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P-R

Privy, outhouse
A facility for human elimination, often located in a small separate outbuilding. Waste is generally deposited into either a removable vessel (a bucket privy) or a cesspool (a pit privy). [Picture]
Privy pit
The cesspool used for the temporary or permanent storage of human waste from a pit privy. Under favorable soil conditions, the pit can be dug, used for a period, and then filled in while the privy is moved elsewhere.
Rere-dorter
The lavatory facility associated with a monastic establishment; generally situated behind the "dorter" (sleeping quarters).
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S-U

Septic tank
A modern device (consisting of a watertight concrete or fiberglass tank) used for the anaerobic decomposition of sewage. Human waste is flushed into the tank from water closets, together with the drainage from sinks, baths, and appliances. The treated effluent is then dispersed to the soil through a drain field, while the sludge is periodically removed (generally by a vacuum truck). A septic tank is an active treatment device, not a cesspool.
Soak-away
A pit where liquid waste and effluent is deposited for dispersion into the soil.
Toilet
A facility for the deposition of human waste through defecation or urination; includes both privies and water closets. Found in both Eastern-style and Western-style varieties.
Urinal
A place or device dedicated to the excretion of the liquid human waste generated by the kidneys.
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V-Z

Water closet
See Flush toilet.
Western-style toilet
A sanitary facility which allows the use of a sitting posture, as distinct from squatting, during defecation or female urination.

Link to:

  1. A Matter of Convenience--Introduction
  2. A Matter of Convenience--Historical Background
  3. A Matter of Convenience--Dry Land Disposal
  4. A Matter of Convenience--Chamberpots
  5. A Matter of Convenience--Jamaican Sanitation
  6. A Matter of Convenience--The Building 5 Privy
  7. A Matter of Convenience--Port Royal Chamberpots
  8. A Matter of Convenience--Conclusions

Revised: 1 December 1996

Christine A. Powell
Nautical Archaeology Program
Texas A&M University
Home Page: http://nautarch.tamu.edu/