Posted by: Dutch | December 21, 2009

The crapper

Meaning

The lavatory.

Origin

Early crapper

Popular wisdom attributes the derivation of this slang term for lavatory to Thomas Crapper (1836 – 1904), the supposed inventor of the flush toilet. Unfortunately, Thomas Crapper didn’t invent the flush toilet. He holds nine patents for plumbing-related inventions, including three for water closets, but flush lavatory, properly called the Silent Valveless Water Waste Preventer was patented in 1819 by Albert Giblin.

Nevertheless, Crapper is the name that people remember. He was certainly well-known in his day as a sanitary engineer. He had a thriving plumbing business and was sanitary engineer for several members of the royal family.

Like the widespread and misguided rejection of Nelson’s deathbed quotation – ‘kiss me Hardy’, it has become commonplace to see the association of the name Crapper with toilets and defecation dismissed as an urban myth. As in Nelson’s case, there doesn’t seem to be any good reason for that. The word crap, either as a noun or as a verb, doesn’t appear in English before Crapper’s lifetime. The earliest citation is from the 1859 edition of John C. Hotten’s A dictionary of modern slang, cant, and vulgar words:

“Crapping case, a privy, or water-closet.”

There are older Dutch and German words (krappe/krape) and an English version crappe that could have been the source. None of these actually mean defecate or excrement.

Given what we know at present we can’t say for certain that crap and crapping come from Thomas Crapper’s name. Likewise, we don’t have any clear evidence to say that they don’t.

– Our sincere thanks to Gary Martin of The Phrase Finder

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