Toilets can be sanitation fixtures or rooms with a toilet and basin. Toilets don’t contain bathing facilities. Bathrooms are most commonly rooms with bathing facilities. Often, they will also have toilets and basins. Sometimes, the terms can refer to a public facility containing only basins and toilets.
Difference Between Toilets and Bathrooms: Overview
In the majority of cases, both toilets and bathrooms provide a toilet unit and a basin in which to wash your hands. In using the terms as verbs as opposed to adjectives—”I need the bathroom,” or “I need the toilet,”—they mean the same thing.
However, these two rooms are not really the same when it comes to their official descriptions. Where a toilet has only a toilet and a sink, a bathroom will have those features along with a bathtub and/or shower. In some areas, ‘bathroom’ is actually a term reserved for a room with bathing facilities only and no toilets.
What is a Toilet?
Meaning and Origins of the Term
The term ‘toilet’ was not actually used to refer to a room or a plumbing device when it was first coined in the 16th century. It is the anglicized spelling of the French word ‘toilette‘, which is an act of bathing and readying oneself for the day.
‘Toilette‘ itself is a diminutive form of the word ‘toile‘, which means cloth. This tied in to a person’s ‘toilette‘ because they used a cloth to cover their clothing while their hair was being dressed (they used to dress hair with powder) and it would also help protect men’s clothing as they shaved.
By the close of the 18th century, the term was adapted to mean the physical space or room where these processes occurred. Added to such places were units used for defecation/urination.
The toilet was the logical room in which to install these units because they were private and using these units often forms part of the process of readying oneself for bed or going out.
A century later, ‘toilet’ was no longer used to refer to the entire room but rather just the sanitation fixture.
What Is a Toilet in Today’s Language?
Today, the term ‘toilet’ has a wide array of meanings, many of which hearken back to its historical definitions. Sometimes, it depends on where you are in the world (which we look at in the next section), but oftentimes, it’s used to refer to different things in the same region.
A ‘toilet’ can refer to the physical fixture or receptacle for relieving oneself. This fixture normally consists of a bowl and an attached water tank, with a flushing mechanism. More rustic alternatives are not given this name.
‘Toilet’ is also still used to refer to the physical room containing the actual toilet in private residences or a room containing multiple toilets as in the case of a public toilet facility.
Certain people still talk about doing their ‘toilet,’ referring to getting ready to go to bed or go out, although it is not a common use of the word. A more common link to this use of the word is when we speak about toiletries.
Toiletries are items we use to wash and ready ourselves as opposed to things that have anything to do with the actual plumbing installation.
Who Uses the Term Toilet?
Unlike terms like ‘water closet’, ‘lav’, ‘loo’, or ‘dunny’, if you ask someone in an English-speaking country where the toilet is, they will know where to direct you.
In Australia, South Africa, Britain, and Western Europe, it is deemed acceptable to use the word toilet in everyday language. You can say “where is the toilet?” or “excuse me, I need to go to the toilet”, and no one will think anything of it other than you need to use the toilet.
However, it is regarded as extremely rude to use the word ‘toilet’ in such situations in American and Canadian cultures. It may be best to stick to colloquial terms to avoid offending the locals. In public, you can ask where the restroom or washroom is. In private, you can ask to be directed to the bathroom.
What is a Bathroom?
Meaning and Origins of the Term
‘Bathroom’ actually has an interesting history. The word originated in Ancient Rome, where they used to have public bathing areas or baths.
Over time, people started using private bathing facilities more often and the public bathing rooms seemed to fade from popularity. However, there initially were no bath rooms in private residences.
Tubs were typically set up in rooms like bedrooms, living rooms (or the historical equivalent thereof), and kitchens, so there was no ‘bathroom’, so to speak.
Eventually, though, bathing facilities in residences got their own room, but it was a room in which you bathed. There was no toilet unit.
Over time, with indoor plumbing and in an effort to save space, toilets and basins were installed in the same room as the bathing facilities.
What Is a Bathroom in Today’s Language?
In present day language, bathroom seems to have three predominant meanings (use differs by area, which we look at in the next section):
- A private facility with a toilet, bath and/or shower, and basin.
- A private facility with a toilet and basin.
- A public facility with at least one toilet and basin.
Who Uses the Term Bathroom?
In the UK, America, Canada, South Africa, and many other English-speaking countries, the term ‘bathroom’ is almost always used to mean a room in one’s home that contains a bath or shower, along with a sink and toilet.
In America and Canada, however, it can also be used to refer to a private or public facility containing a toilet and basin only. Countries like South Africa that have been heavily influenced by American culture will also use the term in these ways.
On the other hand, in Australia, the term is used to refer to a room that is exclusively used for showers and/or bathtubs. In some cases, there is a toilet, but this is not common, as toilets are often found in a separate small room.
Table of Differences Between Toilets and Bathrooms
|Contains a bath/shower?||No||Yes|
|Contains a toilet?||Yes||Yes|
|Contains a basin?||Yes||Yes|
|Public or private?||Both||Both|
|Different meanings in different locations?||Yes||Yes|
|Meaning in America?||Refers to the physical sanitary fixture.||A private room containing a toilet, sink, shower and/or bathtub.|