What does a native speaker say when he feels the urge to defecate?

Is it, I have got to go potty or something else?

  • 7
    In AmE, I need to use the restroom. No need to mention what activities will take place there.
    – EllieK
    Apr 1, 2022 at 16:44
  • Depends on the circumstances/audience. Also depends on whether the speaker is wearing Depends.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 1, 2022 at 18:26
  • Can't help wondering why anyone would want to share that feeling with others, unless he didn't know where the toilet was. It's a fairly private thing, which is why we have doors in toilets, and really of little concern to anyone but the sufferer. If anyone proclaimed that to me, the answer would probably be 'just get on with it, but not here'.
    – Tim
    Apr 2, 2022 at 8:11
  • Somewhere there's bound to be a list of polite & very not polite euphemisms for a toilet, hopefully in order of acceptability in polite conversation ;) One for you from the movie industry, where they use "10 codes" on the walkie-talkies, a bit like CB radio. Ten one & ten two. I'll let you guess which is which. Apr 2, 2022 at 11:30
  • 1
    Who are you talking to? Your co-worker or your boss? Your partner or parent or child, your bartender or a complete stranger? Then, who's asking? An educated person or an ignorant one? A polite person or a rude one? Apr 2, 2022 at 22:28

5 Answers 5


'Go potty' is only suitable for very small children under 3 years of age approximately. In general, for anyone older than a very small child, the rules of politeness require that we do not spell out in words what we are going to do in the toilet, or even that we are going there. We just say 'Excuse me'. Americans can talk about 'going to the bathroom'. To explicitly mention urination or defecation is very often considered a sign of extreme vulgarity, ill-breeding, or a mental defect of some kind.

The above definitely applies in formal situations, such as the workplace, among strangers, people upon whom you wish to make a good impression, etc.

Among intimate friends (especially 'badass' teenage boys), or between husband and wife, children, etc, it may be possible to say what you are planning to do, and (having crossed the vulgarity threshold) you could say 'I need a shit!', 'I have to take a dump', etc. In medical situations you could say 'I need to defecate, move my bowels, etc'.

In the UK, the formerly infantile verb and noun 'poo' seems to be in wide use, and might be appropriate informally. From the UK National Health Service online advice about constipation:

Do not delay if you feel the urge to poo.

When I was growing up, the word was spelled 'pooh', but many younger people are not aware of that, and may, incorrectly, call it an error.

‘And don't you think that actually it looks more like the crouching statue is doing a pooh?’

Pooh (Lexico - Oxford Dictionaries)

I might well say to my wife, after 30 years together, and we are alone, 'I need to have a meeting with Mister Brown', and she will reply, 'Oh God! Open the window in the bathroom!'

I had a vulgar colleague who used to come back from the toilet and say 'My God! That was so big, I'm getting post-natal depression!'. Some people frowned but I later heard them laughing and telling others what he had said. I was once in a French department store near the toilettes and an elderly lady came out and the attendant by the door, another elderly lady, said Ça va? She replied J'ai gagné! (How did it go? - I've won!)

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – gotube
    Apr 2, 2022 at 17:37
  • Where does "a meeting with Mister Brown" come from? I've never heard it, though I'd understand what you mean in context. I googled it but only found posts you wrote. Is the connection just that poop is brown?
    – wjandrea
    Apr 2, 2022 at 22:00
  • 1
    @wjandrea "Is the connection just that poop is brown?" - You got it. To a native speaker the link is obvious. If I said I was, like the Stranglers, going to perform 'Golden Brown', it would be similarly understood. You don't need to overthink this. Apr 2, 2022 at 22:40
  • @Michael Why did you reject my edit suggestion? It was not intended to address you and would not be suitable as a comment or answer. If it helps clarify my suggestion, I'm a native speaker and I wasn't immediately sure what "ill-breeding" meant. After looking it up, to me it smacks of classism, but I could be wrong.
    – wjandrea
    Apr 2, 2022 at 22:53
  • @wjandrea: It's definitely classist; the whole point is to describe the lower classes as not merely unfortunate, but inherently inferior. But it's also exactly what you'd hear certain snobby WASP-types use to describe a rude, uncouth individual (e.g. someone who discusses their defecation without indirection or euphemism). Apr 3, 2022 at 0:13

There is a range of expressions that convey this message directly or indirectly, the choice of which depends on the speaker, the company and the occasion. Here, in order of politeness, are a few possibilities.

Excuse me for a moment; I'll be right back with you.
Excuse me for a moment while I go to the bathroom/washroom.
(British) Back in a mo. I just need to go to/visit the loo.
(Children) Mummy/daddy I need to do a poo/number two.
(Australia) Where's the jakes.
(Typical in the bar:) Please watch my drink while I take a sh.t/cr.p/ etc

These are just a few of many possibilities. If in doubt, prefer to be discreet.

  • 2
    In support of "#2", the Who does #$2 work for? scene from Austin powers: youtube.com/watch?v=ZALSvE6N5d0 Mar 31, 2022 at 21:10
  • 2
    @ihavenoidea oh! Ha, yes, "excuse me for a moment; [etc]" is a polite way to step away for non-bathroom reasons as well
    – TylerW
    Mar 31, 2022 at 23:35
  • 1
    I was brought up in Wales. My family never used the number system. When I first went to school I was befuddled by all talk about ' going for #x'
    – Psionman
    Apr 1, 2022 at 8:06
  • 1
    @Psionman London for me, but no. 1 / no. 2 were also not used at home, though I became familiar with the terms young enough that I can't recall not understanding them
    – Chris H
    Apr 1, 2022 at 10:17
  • 2
    @Barmar If I heard someone say "powder my nose" today, I'd think they were either deliberately trying to sound old-timey, or going to go do some cocaine. Apr 1, 2022 at 20:22

The expression is likely to vary a lot, depending on:

  • the country that you live in
  • the extent to which native speakers prefer to use euphemisims as opposed to something more direct
  • the person to whom the remark is directed (e.g., a family member, a nurse in a hospital, a child vs adult)
  • whether you specifically need to mention defecation or only that you need to get to a particular place (toilet, outside area away from your wilderness tent, etc).

In most contexts, there is usually no need to make it clear that you need to defecate rather than urinate, and so "I need to use the toilet [lavatory, WC, bathroom]" would likely communicate all that was necessary.

"Potty" is unlikely to be used in any country or context other than when talking to a child ... "Do you need the potty" ... and that, of course might equally be said, whether you thought the child had to defecate or urinate.

"Shit" and "to shit" are used freely in some contexts and countries but frowned upon as being offensive in other places. The advantage of their use is that they are universally understood and that even if you offend someone, they will understand the urgency of your need.

There are of course a whole host of euphemisms from which to choose but they are not universally understood to mean defecation (poo, do a job, have a job, dump, do a dump, do number twos, poop, crap, go to the head, use the facilities) and might result in people misunderstanding you. Contrary to what others might suggest, my own approach is to use the most direct expression I can think of if the urgency is great. There will be time enough later to ask a person from the locality about the expressions that are typical there.

There is an amusing anecdote (at this link) about the capacity of people not to say what they really mean when talking about excreta ...

Grannie used to say she was going out to the euphemism to euphemize. She meant the 1915-era summerhouse privy built on a granite ledge in Maine.

  • 3
    Perhaps Grannie was a fan of Edward Albee. In his play "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" he has one character say "Martha, will you show her where we keep the, uh, euphemism?"
    – Llaves
    Apr 2, 2022 at 3:30

In american culture we tend not to specify what exactly we are doing in the bathroom unless we are very familiar with the person to whom we are speaking (close family, close friends or possibly close cowokers). It isn't normally something that is announced casually. As others have mentioned, it's usually simple to say something like 'I have to use the restroom.' Colloquially you might say something like 'I have to hit the head' or much more politely 'I need a personal break.' For defecation specifically you have some really great options - some of them vulgar, but again very familiar. You likely wouldn't say any of these during e.g. a break while on a job interview:

  • I have to poo/poop
  • I have to go number 2 (number 1 would be urination)
  • I have to drop a deuce
  • I have to duke one out
  • I have to drop the kids off at the pool
  • I have to grow a tail
  • I have to take a shit (vulgar)

There are many other colorful options.

  • 1
    "There are many other colorful options" are you sure they are colorful?
    – user141755
    Apr 4, 2022 at 18:38
  • Absolutely. Brown is a color.
    – jayce
    Apr 5, 2022 at 19:20

Caveat: Prompted by Barmar's comment I googled the phrase and hit exactly nothing (which is fairly extreme). I didn't know that when I wrote the first version of this answer but the phrase below was invented and is only used by our family. I still find it specific without being offensive and intelligible to a general audience, so I'll let it stand with this caveat. The next google search will at least have this one hit, and who knows...

A colloquial term in my family (whose English is mostly shaped by my Texan partner who also spent some time in the Boston area) is:

"I need my private five minutes."

This makes clear both that we don't want to be disturbed and that it may take a while (longer than peeing).

  • 2
    That sounds like a regional euphemism. I've never heard it.
    – Barmar
    Apr 1, 2022 at 15:38
  • 1
    @Barmar It may be as regional as being confined to a specific household near Tyler, Texas (and now maybe two); on the other hand it is, I think, intelligible even for people not from that address. Apr 1, 2022 at 15:39
  • 2
    In this context, practically anything will usually be understandable. It's easy to make up your own euphemisms. If you said "Excuse me, I need to blarf", they'd know what you meant.
    – Barmar
    Apr 1, 2022 at 15:41
  • @Barmar Well, I didn't make it up but a quick google search came up with exactly zero hits, so I'll add a caveat. Apr 1, 2022 at 15:43
  • 2
    @Barmar I get what you're saying, but "blarf" sounds like "barf" (vomit).
    – wjandrea
    Apr 2, 2022 at 22:14

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