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Toilet vs. Commode

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Why do some folks call the toilet a commode? At one point in history, the commode was a piece of furniture you’d put a chamberpot in. Today, commode is still a common term heard in the American South. Elsewhere, the term commode denotes a kind of cabinet, causing confusion when journalists mistook reports of Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham taking a bribe in the form of a pair of antique commodes worth more than $7000. What do you call your porcelain throne? This is part of a complete episode.

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1 comment
  • I was surprised to hear this topic come up. I am amazed at how foreign people from the same country can be.
    I’ve always heard the commode (I am from Canada) used but mostly with humor, because it was seen as a fancy and polite term for a toilet. An outhouse, which we had behind our house growing up, is made up of a box with an insert where the toilet seat goes and then the house around it. We move the “facility” into the house so now you don’t need the house and you are left with a box with a seat in it. No-one is going to move an outhouse – rough wood etc inside. Older toilets in the apartments we lived in had a wooden box, with the toilet seat and a water tank above it with a long flush chain. That fancier piece of furniture is the commode. Once you have the porcelain insert alone, it is a toilet.
    All over Europe, including countries speaking other languages, I’ve only ever heard the word toilet. And I’ve head it expressed often that Europeans find it strange/funny that Americans always use euphemisms for everything. Washroom, bathroom, etc. If you ask someone where the bathroom is they ask “why? are you going to take a bath?” I’ve been asked why don’t you just call it what it is? A toilet? And I explained that Americans find this a bit crass and are uncomfortable saying things so directly. (Which is funny).
    As much as many Southerner’s find “toilet” ridiculous, I think you would find as many Northerners and others amused by “commode” or simply confused.

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