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Do British say toilet or restroom?

The terms Brits use for the place we go to relieve ourselves can be a confusing topic for those unfamiliar with British English. While there are some differences between British and American English when it comes to bathroom terminology, there is quite a bit of overlap as well.

The Main Terms Brits Use

In the UK, the most common terms for the room with a toilet are:

  • Toilet
  • Loo
  • Bathroom
  • Restroom
  • WC (short for water closet)

“Toilet” is by far the most common and preferred term. “Loo” is a very British informal term, rarely used in formal or business settings. “Bathroom” is understood but avoided when there is no bath present. “Restroom” and “WC” are formal terms more likely to be seen on signs than said out loud.

Toilet vs Restroom Usage

The main difference between British and American English when it comes to bathrooms is the use of “toilet” vs “restroom.” Americans strongly prefer “restroom” in public places, rarely using “toilet” which sounds too informal. Brits use “toilet” almost exclusively, even in formal contexts. “Restroom” is still understood in the UK but seen as an Americanism.

Some key notes on “toilet” vs “restroom” usage:

  • “Toilet” is used in all contexts in the UK – homes, restaurants, offices, public buildings, etc.
  • “Restroom” is extremely rare in British homes, though understood from American media.
  • In public spaces, Brits say “Where is the toilet?” while Americans say “Where is the restroom?”
  • “Toilet” is not considered impolite or informal. It is used in front of the Queen!
  • British English speakers will often code-switch to “restroom” when speaking to Americans.

Other Bathroom Terms in British and American English

There are also some other bathroom terms that differ between the UK and US:

British Term American Term
Toilet Restroom, bathroom
Loo N/A
Tap Faucet
Cistern Toilet tank

As we can see, Brits use several unique terms like “loo” and “cistern” that are not used at all in American English. At the same time, “faucet” and “toilet tank” are exclusively American terms not heard in British bathrooms.

Reasons for the Toilet vs Restroom Difference

There are a few theories as to why Americans strongly favor “restroom” over “toilet”:

  • Americans have historically been more prudish about bodily functions and tried to avoid direct toilet terminology.
  • “Toilet” focuses on the physical object rather than the room itself.
  • Early indoor toilets were seen as novelties that ladies needed to “rest” in.
  • “Restroom” is a euphemism stemming from the non-toilet functions of early bathrooms.

Meanwhile, Brits have stuck with the simpler and more direct “toilet” term. Some possible reasons include:

  • The British are less euphemistic and more direct about bodily functions.
  • As an island nation, water closets caught on quickly in the UK.
  • “Toilet” was in common British use before Americans started preferring “restroom.”

British Toilet Terms in Slang and Pop Culture

Toilet terminology has also made its way into British pop culture and slang:

  • “Spend a penny” – British slang for going to the toilet derived from public toilets costing a penny in the past.
  • “Taking the piss” – Slang for mocking someone, related to urine/toilets.
  • “Thunderbox” – Slang for a toilet, referring to the sounds it makes when flushed.
  • “Bog roll” – Slang for toilet paper.
  • Children’s books like “Where’s My Potty?” use “potty” over “toilet.”

Euphemisms like “powdering one’s nose” are still sometimes used by older generations for going to the toilet, especially for women. But most Brits today use blunt toilet terms freely in all contexts.

Regional British Dialects and Accents

There are also some regional British English dialects that have their own unique toilet terminology:

  • Geordies (from Newcastle) use “netty” for toilet.
  • “Khazi” is used in Cockney rhyming slang.
  • “Cludgie” is used in Scotland.
  • Some northern areas use “lav” or “lavvy.”
  • Older London cockneys used “gazunda” (from “goes under”).

However, when speaking to non-locals, most British regional dialect speakers will use common terms like “toilet” to avoid confusion.

Changes Over Time

Bathroom terms have certainly evolved over Britain’s long history. While the Romans introduced indoor plumbing, Brits used chamber pots and outhouses for many centuries. As indoor toilets spread through the 19th and 20th centuries, “toilet” and “water closet” became the standard modern terms.

“Toilet” was first used in the 16th century from the French “toilette” meaning dressing room or sink, eventually transferring to the actual toilet fixture. Other delightful old English toilet euphemisms like “jakes”, “garderobe”, and “privy” faded out of everyday use over time.

Class and Propriety

Today, “toilet” is used across all of British society without any class divide. But some older upper and upper-middle class Brits may maintain vestiges of propriety from earlier eras when more indirect toilet terms were preferred in proper company.

The youth of Britain today grew up using “toilet” bluntly and have none of the squeamishness of past generations. With TV shows proudly proclaiming they are “having a poo” or “going for a wee”, inhibitions about using direct toilet language have been washed away.


While American visitors should feel free to request the “restroom” or “bathroom”, when in Britain, it is best to “use the toilet” as the locals do. The British embrace of plain and direct toilet language reflects both their pragmatism and their penchant for cheeky speech.

From the blue-blood aristocrat to the Cockney cabbie, Brits will happily tell you where to find the toilet without blushing or euphemizing. So feel free to use the T-word in the UK in all its forms – toilet, loo, bog, or khazi – and you’ll fit right in!