Days Gone By - stories from the past

What is your favorite name for it?

A Toilet by Any Other Names

by

Inez McCollum

outhouseThe toilet has been the butt of many jokes and has quite a variety of names. Some names are: outhouse, loo, privy, latrine, commode, pit stop, the john, the throne, restroom, bathroom, as well as toilet. Then later came the porta-potty, porta john, rent-a-john, or portalette You probably know of more to add to the lists.


When I was a child, we had a toilet, or outhouse, at the back of our house. My earliest memory is of a neighborhood boy peeking in the “facility” while I was inside. I must have been around four years ago. That stirred up some neighborhood excitement! Another time, we awoke to find that our pit toilet had tilted during the night.

chamber potThen there were the containers for night use; chamber or potty to name two. During my days of working at V.J. Elmore 5 & 10 Store, the inventory sheet listed those as combinettes.

When we finally moved to a house with a flush toilet, it was located on the back porch. I guess it must have been an addition to the house.  It was so cold in that little room during the winter that ones visit was very brief. We later moved to a house with a real bathroom, located inside the house. That was a memorable day.

When my sons reached the age to play little league ball, we were introduced to the portalette. Being portable, those really suffered from mischief makers. Early one morning when I drove my sons to the local high school, there was one on top of the school building. It was Senior prank day and that was the joke for the year. A few years ago I was having my bathrooms updated. The contract firm had a portalette delivered to my home for their employees’ use. I was out of town and arrived home to find it at the front of my house on the driveway. It didn’t take long for me to get in touch with the job superintendent and have that corrected.chamber potw

There was an article in the Birmingham News recently about portable potties. Near famously crooked Lombard Street in San Francisco, they were the victim of pyromaniacs. Someone had been torching the portable potties at a construction site. At least twenty went up in flames.

My most unusual experience was at a public restroom in Cuba. A lady sat outside the restrooms selling sheets of toilet tissue. Then there are the Turkish toilets. I won’t even go there! Both of these really make us appreciate the pit stop in America.

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About Inez McCollum

Inez McCollum grew up in Etowah County.  Married Mack McCollum, a BI-vocational minister.  Moved to Birmingham to work while he worked and went to Howard College/Samford University.  Inez and Mack had three sons, Jay, Joe and John.  They bought their first home in what is now Hoover.  Inez continues to be active in Shades Mountain Baptist Church and some of the civic organizations in Hoover.  Inez also enjoys reading, travel and spending time with friends.

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53 comments

  1. Joe Adams

    . We never called it the outhouse, just the toilet. Inside the house, the toilet is a room where the commode is.

  2. David Smith

    If shit in it a shit house

  3. Beamon Bryson

    That ‘little brown shack out back’.

  4. Roy Nelson

    Mr John the outhouse and the necessary

  5. Trae Haggard

    And it was always a hundred yards to close in summer and a hundred yards to far in winter….

  6. Glenda Quick

    Hate – hated – realy hated those things !! Had the sweetest mom in the world/ potty chamber in house !!!

  7. Out House. In Alabama we still use them. Wife wants water & lights. I guess your wants don’t hurt you.

  8. Jayne Harper

    outhouse! 🙂 Very scary with snakes!

  9. Debbie Shafer

    Terror shack! My grandmother had one when I was a kid

  10. Doug Etheredge

    Now a days, i would call it the politician, the Obama, the hillary, etc.
    Too many to list all. Most fitting names though!

  11. Jean Stafford Lisenba

    Grandma called hers the White House. She always said that she was going to see the president!

  12. Thomas Boyd

    It’s a “STINKER” no matter what it’s called.

  13. Jean Moore Sanderson

    My Grandma Jarrett called her “Mrs. Jones.” She was going to see Mrs. Jones. As a child I always wondered why I could not go with her to visit Mrs. Jones.

  14. Alice Chamblee

    Outhouse, John, Privy, The Office, The Bank, per my Dad 🙂

  15. In Colonial Williamsburg we call it the necessary.

  16. Lester Smith

    IT CALL A OUT HOUSE ,

  17. That old “two holer” out back

  18. A “John” or an out house.

  19. Daisy Marsh

    Some nicknames can’t be posted!

  20. Outhouse was all I ever heard it called.

  21. Nancy Vickery Clark

    My great uncle, Buster Hall, in Canoe, Alabama, called it the moonhouse, perhaps because of the crescent moon carved through the door. I vaguely remember one standing in his back yard in the 1950s, though he had two modern bathrooms in the big house.

  22. After 1946 my Uncle Cecil returned from WW-II, married Evelyne, moved into a tin roofed, tar paper sided shack north of Toomsuba (?), Alabama and started producing a family that eventually had two sons and three daughters. My maternal grandmother had been a widow since 1932 and four of her surviving eight children took turns hosting their mother in their homes. “Granny’s” favorite host was Uncle Cecil who resided in the “shack” that did not have an, “indoor bath”. Granny was a disciplinarian armed with a, “switch” made from anything handy whenever the daily need for discipline of one of the youngsters arose. Your collection of, “outhouse” stories reminded me of her. The most amusing thing that ever occurred was Edwin and Jerry turning the outhouse over while Granny was in it.

  23. I remember once when we visited in Old Mexico back in the ’80s that you had to pay five cents to get into the toilet and you received FOUR sheets of toilet paper no more.

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