38

I have a specific question: Are Americans more inclined to use "bathroom" or "restroom" about a bathroom/restroom with several sinks and stalls in a company building?

  • 20
    I am not qualified to answer this question, but I do recall as a young child one of my teachers getting very (inappropriately) upset with me because I told her I needed to go to the bathroom not long after she asked if anyone needed to go to the restroom. As a young child, I thought the restroom was somewhere you went to rest. I find it interesting to be aware of the longevity of the scars caused by that teacher, even though she did this to me decades ago. – RockPaperLz- Mask it or Casket Jul 14 at 16:41
  • 1
    @RockPaperLizard: It still sounds weird to me - and I decidedly remember the moment of confusion when I arrived in Canada for a research stay and was told the restroom is next hallway... That was an easy to solve confusion, though - hydro meaning electricity took a bit longer ;-). – cbeleites unhappy with SX Jul 15 at 14:26
  • @CrouchingKitten: In German, "In case you want to wash your hands, 2nd door to the left" is a polite/semi-formal way to tell visitors at your home where to find the bathroom/restroom/toilet. But I've not yet heard anyone announcing that they go wash their hands (neither in English nor in German). – cbeleites unhappy with SX Jul 15 at 14:30
  • 1
    fwiw in Canada, or at least in southern Ontario, "washroom" seems to be by far the preferred term – llama Jul 15 at 19:27
  • 2
    Not sure where you're posting from, but, for context, it should be understood that the United States is a very large country. Being so expansive, the regional culture varies throughout. For the most part, I agree with what others have said that both terms "bathroom" and "restroom" are equally acceptable. There also other common terms that people use for the facilities, such as "the facilities," "washroom," "little boys room," "little girls room," and "water closet." – Jim Fell Jul 15 at 20:23
51

Both usages are acceptable to describe the room you describe. Restroom is probably used more often due to the environment where those larger, several stalls, several sinks, bathrooms exist.

Restroom is the more formal word. Your first day of work you would be more likely to ask your boss where the restroom is.

Bathroom is the more casual word. You might ask the waiter at your favorite restaurant where the restroom is but you might ask your friend sitting next to you at the restaurant where the bathroom is.

As a generally safe rule, ask strangers where the restroom is and ask friends where the bathroom is.

| improve this answer | |
  • 7
    +1 for clarity. What really irks me is to hear/see someone say restroom when they are in someone's house. My aunt had a cartoon on the wall of a disheveled, hairy-legged woman that read: Restroom? Hell, I ain't tired. Where's the can? – Lambie Jul 13 at 16:49
  • 10
    There's nothing wrong with saying "restroom" in someone's house. // An even more formal option is "washroom": this will be instantly understood but is much less commonly used these days. More formal and antiquated still is "powder room" (for women's restrooms only); one sometimes hears this in old movies. – TypeIA Jul 13 at 17:17
  • 13
    @Lambie - Since the question is about Americans, it should probably be noted that posted signs for the lavatory in public places almost always say “Restroom” in the US. It almost never says bathroom, washroom, toilet, lavatory, or any other option. In conversation, there is no set rule that applies. Americans will term the room that has the bathtub and/or shower as the bathroom or washroom. Many homes have guest facilities termed half-baths or half-bathrooms. These only have a toilet and sink/wash basin. Many people will call this the powder room. Especially older Americans. Restroom will do. – Dean F. Jul 13 at 20:50
  • 3
    @DeanF. Except on airplanes, oddly. Airplane bathrooms are usually marked "lavatory" for some reason. (Although I've noticed this is starting to change.) – Glenn Willen Jul 14 at 0:43
  • 3
    @GlennWillen - That's because aeroplanes are designed for the international market, and it's only (in my experience) in North America that you hear "restroom". To the rest of the world, that would mean the room you go for a rest! ;) – Chris Melville Jul 15 at 17:44
10

In the US, both the terms restroom and bathroom will be used for facilities in public spaces, commercial buildings, and office spaces. So will the terms toilet and washroom. The frequency that these terms will be used in conversation are about equal. There will be slight degrees of difference in the frequency of their use depending on geographic region, formality, occupation, upbringing, and other factors. On printed signage, the use of the term Restroom is almost completely universal. So, “restroom” tends to be more frequently used than any of they other words when the facilities are not in a home or domicile.

| improve this answer | |
  • 5
    I have never seen the word bathroom in a public place: school, station, government building, colleges, theaters, movie houses, etc. NEVER. Ladies Room and Men's Room are more likely than that. One says bathroom in those places when speaking; it is never written on a sign. – Lambie Jul 13 at 21:43
  • 6
    @Lambie - My point exactly. Many different terms will be used when spoken. The term Bathroom is one of them. “On printed signage, the use of the term Restroom is almost completely universal.” Almost to the point of being exclusively used. Once the rooms must be distinguished by gender, Lady’s/Women’s and Men’s Room is used on the individual doors. The signage to the general area of the two rooms will say Restroom. So, people will speak the term restroom because of the proliferation of the signage. The original question was about using the term in speaking, – Dean F. Jul 13 at 21:52
  • 1
    Informal speech in America is just that, informal. Any phrase you would like to use is generally acceptable and understood. Some stand out because of their use in the particular environment in which you find yourself. As far as this question, specifically, a corporate building (not a bar, restaurant, home, etc). You will see restroom printed on signage more often. So, consciously or subconsciously, people tend to use it more often. Though, any of the spoken phrases we have mentioned are perfectly fine. There is no wrong answer unless you are intentionally being vulgar. – Dean F. Jul 13 at 22:07
  • 3
    In my experience, mostly in the southern and western United States, "washroom" is almost never used. – Cody Gray Jul 14 at 9:01
  • 3
    In general, "toilet" is used to name the fixtures rather than the room, but occasionally signs in US public spaces will says "toilets" (plural) to indicate what can be found within. – CodeGnome Jul 15 at 14:14
5

According to Google Book Ngram Viewer, use the bathroom is twice as common as in print in the US than use the restroom. Use the toilet falls below use the restroom, and use the washroom is in a distant last place:

US use of bathroom, restroom, washroom, and toilet

Incidentally, if I switch the corpus to UK English, bathroom remains the most common, washroom remains the least common, and toilet and restroom exchange places—although toilet creeps a bit closer to bathroom:

US use of bathroom, restroom, washroom, and toilet

I have no way of objectively confirming verbal use, or which is considered more polite. (And Google doesn't track signage, only books.) Anything I say with that respect would be entirely speculative and opinion-based. Even if there is a general consensus that one is more polite than the other, I can't point to any kind of study that actually shows this to be the case.

| improve this answer | |
  • The gap is narrowed if we include "use the" in the search box books.google.com/ngrams/… Although still surprising results for the BrEng corpus, I thought the "restroom" was exclusively American and also Canadian. – Mari-Lou A Jul 15 at 19:17
  • 1
    And why are there more people using the bathroom today than (even) forty years ago?! :) – Mari-Lou A Jul 15 at 19:20
  • @Mari-LouA if you add "use the toilet" (which would be my preferred term in New Zealand) it comes 2nd in BrE, I think it gets a bit harder to determine there because there's probably more variation on a smaller regional level. I doubt Glasgow has similar usage patterns to Oxford – llama Jul 15 at 19:26
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA Good call on the different search query. I've updated my answer with that, and also provided a UK comparison—because it actually does make a difference with the new query. – Jason Bassford Jul 15 at 20:02
  • 1
    In the British English Ngram, we find "use the loo" is above "use the washroom". But for American English, "use the loo" is scarcely visible at the bottom. – GEdgar Jul 16 at 21:11
3

I agree with the consensus of the other comments: restroom is more "formal" and used for signage, and bathroom is more casual/likely to be used at someone's house when talking about the noun. When talking about the act of using the facilities, both are used somewhat interchangeably. For example, "I'm going to use the bathroom before we go" or "I'm going to hit the restroom before our next meeting" would both be acceptable usage, and nobody would misunderstand what you meant, or find it too out of place.

On a related note, I've always found the verbs associated with relieving one's self to be interesting. In America, you generally use "take" (take a pee, take a leak, take a poop, take a dump, etc.) used to describe the act. While in some parts of the world, I believe make is the preferred verb (make a wee, make a pee, make a poop). It always sounds funny to me, but probably more accurate than take! If anything, you're leaving a pee/poop. :)

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Many years ago George Carlin did a bit on "Taking" vs "Leaving." – Ron Jensen - We are all Monica Jul 14 at 21:05
  • Please note that bathroom and restroom are nouns in both cases that you've presented. Since some nouns are "verbed" in casual English, it's an important distinction to make. – jpaugh Jul 14 at 22:47
  • If you think of it as implying "break", as in, "I'm taking a piss break" it makes much more sense. I've always assumed the phrase got shortened over time to just "take a piss", where "a piss" means "a piss break". We're not saying "take piss", which seems to be where the confusion comes from. In that case, "make piss" or "leave piss" of course would make perfect sense. But "leave a piss" actually doesn't make sense if you think about it. "A piss" is something you can only take. – user91988 Jul 15 at 15:26
  • @jpaugh I wasn't trying to say that one was a noun and the other wasn't. I only meant that it seems "bathroom" is more often used to name the room in a residence, while "restroom" is often used to name the room in other settings. Noun probably wasn't the best choice of word in that post. – OwenITGuy Aug 3 at 17:49
3

The difference between "bathroom" and "restroom" is not the level of formality, it's the level of euphemism. "Bathroom" is a partial euphemism because it implies that you only go in there in order to wash up. "Restroom" is a complete euphemism, because people don't actually go in there to rest at all. English doesn't really have any useful non-euphemistic word for this. There are words that started out earlier, like "privy" and "toilet," but they also originated as euphemisms. "Toilet" is awkward because it can refer to either the porcelain chair or the whole room. (It originally just meant the activity of cleaning up, as in "making your toilet.")

Because having these places in public involves having people do something in public that they'd rather do in private, signs normally try to soften the blow by using the greater euphemism, which is "restroom." Where I live (California), it's unusual to hear people refer to the "restroom" in their own house, and when they do, it comes off as a very silly genteelism.

Related: https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/8281/washroom-restroom-bathroom-lavatory-toilet-or-toilet-room

| improve this answer | |
  • non-euphemistic expressions definitely exist: shitter as a noun for the place you shit and “take a shit/dump/crap”. similarly there’s pisser or urinal. and it’s not uncommon to hear folks say things like “i need to pee/wee” etc. – A.Ellett Jul 16 at 4:05
  • 1
    @A.Ellett: I've heard "crapper," but never "shitter." "Pisser" and "urinal" refer to the fixture, not the room. – Ben Crowell Jul 16 at 18:13
  • i’d say that’s a fine distinction to make between the room and the fixture. urinal, sure. but pisser? guys will say “i’m going to the shitter/pisser”. do they mean the fixture or the room? i’d say that’s an empty distinction. but my point was really that we’re not left only with euphemisms. the language is crude, but i suppose that’s unsurprising in these instances. – A.Ellett Jul 16 at 21:11
  • @BenCrowell, among male sailors in the US Navy, the term "shitter" IS in common use for the fixture, slightly less frequently (but still often) for the stall, and still slightly less frequently (and still somewhat often) for the room itself (or compartment aboard ships). But this is considered rather crass slang in polite circles. – Forbin Jul 17 at 2:24
  • A finer term is to refer to it as the shitatorium, but maybe that's just due to having unusual friends. – RockPaperLz- Mask it or Casket Jul 18 at 5:01
1

I'd agree that the difference between "restroom" and "bathroom" is formality, so I won't expand on that from other Answers.

What I will talk about are the variety of euphemisms that Ben Cromwell brushed up against, but didn't go into the list Americans use. Some of them are crude and some of them have specific use cases. I'll try to denote some of these as I go.

Polite or formal:

  • Restroom
  • Gentlemen's/Ladies/Lady's room
  • Men's/Women's room
  • Washroom
  • Powder room (generally feminine use only)
  • Water closet (not common, generally will be assumed used by a foreigner, and may not be understood by many)
  • The Facilities
  • Latrine (generally only military or veterans use this)
  • Family restroom (generally used by parents with little kids of opposite gender or need to change a baby's diaper)

Benign, informal, or common:

  • Unisex restroom (not quite common yet and could unfortunately be considered stigmatized in some regions or by some people. Can also refer to a Family Restroom.)
  • Bathroom
  • Toilet
  • Stool
  • Head (generally only military or veterans use this)
  • The john
  • Little Boy's/Girl's room
  • Outhouse (ye olde version, referring to when bathrooms were separate from the main house. Uncommonly, may also refer to a temporary chemical toilet, such as for outdoor events.)
  • Port-o-Potty (Refers to a temporary chemical toilet, such as for outdoor events.)
  • Port-o-Pot (Same as above)
  • Potty (mostly kids or parents of small kids use this)
  • Can (Example usage: I have to hit the can.)

Very informal, but humorous:

  • Porcelain Throne
  • Throne room
  • Throne
  • Reading room
  • Single/Double/Multi hole (referencing how many stools are in the bathroom, as well as a reference to how outhouses used to be built. May also be considered a crude usage by some.)

Crude, rude, or obnoxious:

  • Shitter
  • Crapper
  • Porcelain God/Goddess
  • Pisser

There's also a wide variety of phrases that are generally informal and try to abstract the nature of the act further, or even draw attention to it.

  • Call of Nature
  • Powder my nose (for women)
  • I got/have to go (Implied that it's go to the restroom, unless there's other context.)
  • Drain the main vein (crude)
  • Make a deposit (crude)
  • Drop off the wife and kids (crude)
  • Pinch a loaf (crude)
  • Take a leak/piss/{other specific word} (crude)
  • Go pee-pee (generally used by little kids or parents when talking to little kids)
  • Go number 1 (or 2). (crude)

I think I've hit the majority of words, phrases, and other relevant references used across the USA that should be understood almost anywhere. There are specific cases that I've left out, but because they have specific uses, such as walking into a "cowboy bar" and the restrooms being labeled as "cowboy" and "cowgirl", but asking in a "normal" way should still get you to the correct spot.

There may also be some regional words or phrases that I simply don't know about. There may also be some varieties I've simply forgotten about. Feel free to add them in comments if you know something I don't, as well as please specify how formal, informal, crude, or other use it is.

Conclusion

To bring this back to the original question, the first 2 sections above would likely be used in a workplace. The 2nd section would be used within a familiar group of coworkers without too much problem, but probably not with a "bigwig" or a manager around. The last 3 sections (including the phrases) are generally not work or business appropriate.

"I have to go" might be used without context, but it could easily be misunderstood that you need to leave for the day, go to a meeting, go to lunch, a doctor's appointment, or something else. This can also be easily misunderstood in everyday usage, too, so generally it's only used when there's previous context as to where you are going.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Never heard anybody say "porcelain god," except as part of the larger phrase, "get down on your/my/their knees and pray to the porcelain god." That's something one does after one has consumed a largeish amount of alcohol a bit too quickly. – Solomon Slow Jul 16 at 19:57
  • @SolomonSlow, it's definitely not common, but I've overheard someone say they were going to "visit the porcelain god" even when they weren't drinking. It seems a little awkward. – computercarguy Jul 16 at 20:12

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.