a rose by any other name
October 30, 2010 Leave a comment
More from Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life:
But early toilets often didn’t work well. Sometimes they backfired, filling the room with even more of what the horrified owner had very much hoped to be rid of. Until the development of the U-bend and water trap — which create that little reservoir of water that returns to the bottom of the bowl after each flush — every toilet bowl acted as a conduit to the smells of cesspit and sewer. The backwaft of odors, particularly in hot weather, could be unbearable.
This problem was resolved by one of the great and surely most extraordinarily appropriate names in hygiene history, Thomas Crapper (1837–1910), who was born into a poor family in Yorkshire and reputedly walked to London at the age of eleven. There he became an apprentice plumber in Chelsea. Crapper invented the classic and, in Britain, still familiar toilet with an elevated cistern activated by the pull of a chain. Called the Marlboro Silent Water Waste Preventer, it was clean, leak-proof, odor-free, and wonderfully reliable, and its manufacture made Crapper very rich and so famous that it is often assumed that he gave his name to the slang term crap and its many derivatives. In fact, crap in the lavatorial sense is very ancient, and crapper for a toilet is an Americanism not recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary before 1922. Crapper’s name, it seems, was just a happy coincidence.