Netty
Posted: 04 April 2007 05:37 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Interesting article in today’s Guardian. It concerns the preservation of a urinal but that which caught my eye was this:

Known as the Westoe Netty, their significance has increased with Newcastle-Gateshead’s drive to be Europe’s alternative capital of culture when the official title comes to Liverpool next year. As well as the artistic links, dating to the painting of 1972, the urinals have linguistic distinction: the Geordie word “netty” for lavatory derives from Roman slang on Hadrian’s Wall which became “gabinetto” in Italian.

This would be a magnificently ancient pedigree indeed. The OED however pours cold water on the idea.

Netty, n.  Eng. regional (north-east.)

Origin uncertain.
It has been suggested that it is shortened < Italian gabbinetti toilets, but no evidence has been found to support this. Another theory suggests that the word is an alteration of necessary.

Ah well, so much for Hadrian’s Wall. Amusing first cite for the word though:

1825 J. T. BROCKETT Gloss. N. Country Words 147 Neddy, Netty, a certain place that will not bear a written explanation, but which is depicted to the very life in a tail-piece in the first edition of Bewick’s ‘Land Birds’ (1797), p. 285.

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Posted: 04 April 2007 08:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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FWIW, It. gabbinetto is a diminutive of It gabbia.  The Latin source of gabbia is cavea.  The diminutive word form in Latin would have ended -ula (possibly caveula).

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Posted: 04 April 2007 10:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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And of course it’s directly equivalent to its French cognate, cabinet, with which it shares a range of meanings, from “study” to “chest of drawers”.

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Posted: 04 April 2007 10:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Other words for netty.

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Posted: 04 April 2007 01:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Here’s my favourite: in France, a common name for a public urinal is “Vespasiane”; in Spain and (at least) some other Spanish-speaking countries, “Vespasiana”. This is, of course, a reference to the famous argument between Vespasian and Titus (recounted by Suetonius) about Vespasian’s tax on the urinals of Rome, in which the emperor is said to have made the famous remark “pecunia non olet” --- “money has no smell”.

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Posted: 04 April 2007 05:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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The French word is vespasienne.  (Is it still common?  I thought it was a tad old-fashioned.)

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Posted: 04 April 2007 05:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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And let us not forget “pissoire” (spelling?)

Probably the least euphemistic of them all and, marvelously, the word finds it’s way into the King James Bible at I Kings 14:10.  There is such a construction at the top of the stairs exiting the main train station in central Hamburg.  Maybe there is such a place at the exit of every downtown train station in Germany, I don’t know. You smell it before you see it.  A great round configuration looking for all the world like a space ship which has temporarily landed for our convenience.  And even the Germans call it a “pissoire.” It’s at once elegant (because it’s French, I suppose) and to the point.

Again, alas, poor women!  No such mass elimination place for them.  At least not one I know anything about.

[ Edited: 04 April 2007 05:24 PM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 05 April 2007 12:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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"vespasienne” is cedrtainly not common in this part of France (Alsace), but maybe not too suprising given the germanic nature of the local dialect.  Perhaps it’s more common in other parts of France.
“pissoir” is wonderfully direct, typical French.  It always amuses me to be in a nice restaurant and to see “pissenlits” (literally “piss in beds”, dandelion leaves)offered as a salad.  Just can’t see that in an english establishment…

“Netty” always seemed to be used for the outside toilet on older cottages in the NE of England, rather than public urinals.  But still no real help in the origin.

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Posted: 05 April 2007 12:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I would have thought the English word cabinet itself the most likely origin for netty, although OED doesn’t suggest it. It’s surely a small step from the sense of ‘small room, chamber’ to that of the littlest room in the house (or outside of it).

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Posted: 05 April 2007 04:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Since Oeco has introduced the subject of how the KJV describes micturition: for many years my father and I were baffled by the phrase ”to cover one’s feet”, which is used several times in the Old Testament to describe going for a pee (Judges 3:24 and 1 Samuel 24:3). Then one day my parents decided to spend their summer holidays crossing the Sinai Desert by camel; on their return they said that one of the worst inconveniences is that it’s all flat, with no bushes and very few rocks, so that if you wish to answer the call of nature it’s really difficult to find anything to crouch behind. But their Beduin guides had no such difficulty; in their loose ankle-length nightshirt-like robes they just squatted down anywhere and were perfectly decent, as their robes covered them, right down to their feet.

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Posted: 05 April 2007 06:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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point well taken, Syntinen!  Then there’s the metaphor when Ruth uncovers Boaz’s feet! (Ruth 3:4).

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Posted: 05 April 2007 08:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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While pissoir does exist in French, it’s much less common than pissotière, which is the normal word.  I presume English speakers have latched onto the former because it’s shorter and easier to spell (no damn accent grave).

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