Bill Casselman

At the Wording Desk

Increase your understanding of common English words by learning their complex & interesting history

“Patience on a Monument” is a banned etching by the great British caricaturist James Gilray (1756-1815‎) furtively published to minor outrage in September 1791, wherein Gilray depicts the distinguished socialite Lady Cecilia Johnson at stool.

You may wish to evacuate this website, because we now commence a study of the word stool, for the elucidation of any who wonder how the name of a chair came to designate a turd.

Please note first that I have always abhorred euphemism, the evasion of simple language by means of sugary evasion, by weasel-word substitutive circumlocution, by replacing stern words with some dinky delicacy of utterance pleasing to the ears of a prissy fop or a bewigged noblewoman of too genteel a birth to have her shapely auricles befouled by gutter talk. What I have to say to such aristocratic word-snobs is: fuck that noise!

All hail potty-mouthed, low speech!
Proudly do I assert that I am a fan of dysphemism, whereby the varlet wordster (moi!) takes a positive or neutral word and replaces it with a loathsome, disagreeable word, the better to awaken the reader from his or her customary doziness and from an unreflective verbal sloth. A dedicated dysphemist would take down the sign that reads “Men’s Room” and put up a new sign reading “Drop Fudge Nuggets Here.”

Today a (foot)stool is a small tripodal (three-legged) seat, often a mere footrest. But in earlier languages, the common Germanic root Stuhl was a chair of high office, a seat of august authority, even a bishop’s lofty throne effulgent with episcopal splendour and mayhap with downy-pubed ephebes lurking under the bishop’s throne, awaiting his bishopric.

Etymology of the Word Stool
In a modern western house, a stool is usually a short stepladder that children and dwarf wives stand on to extend their reach. The Proto-Indo-European root is *sta ‘to stand, to sit, to be located,’ an etymon most productive in Western languages giving us in English alone and from borrowed cognates: stand, steady, stay, steer, station, stet, status, circumstance, instant, stasis, ecstasy, hemostat, thermostat, install, epistle, apostle and stable.

Because sportive divertissements and etymological  sidetracks from the pathways of wordish duty are not only permissible in language study but often agreeable, I pause to tell you about a Greek word for stool which turns into the modern Greek word for bank where one keeps money. Trapeza was an ancient Greek word for table, in origin a modest four-legged stool (τράπεζα trapeza > tessares Greek ‘four’ + pezos ‘foot’ in compound words > pous podos Greek ‘foot’).

In a Greek Orthodox monastery, the refectory where monks and pilgrims eat is a trapeza, a modest table. Yes, the English words trapezoid and trapeze stem from the same compound. In ancient Greece, and in the Hellenistic era of the New Testament, money-lenders on the steps or along the porticoes of temples, squatted cross-legged in front of little four-legged tables, exchanging currencies for a fee, taking deposits and receiving interest on previous loans, thence the modern Greek word for bank became trapeza.

By the mid-fourteenth century and perhaps earlier, stool as throne began to disappear in use, contaminated by the newer meaning of toilet. We know it meant commode by 1455 because we read of an English king who had in service one “William Grymesby who was Yeoman of the Stoole” and Groom of the Chamber(pot). Now there indeed is a modest regal preferment, if ever one was granted to lowly mortal.

We even have servant bitchiness arising by 1596 CE, in this poisonous little note: “A seventh (whom I would guess by his writing to be groom of the stool to some prince of the blood of France) writes a beastly treatise only to examine what is the fittest thing to wipe withal, alleging that white paper is too smooth!”

The famous diarist Samuel Pepys (1663 CE) was not above informing us of his defecatory habits. On May 24, 1663, Pepys jotted down this fetching notelet: “Having taken one of Mr. Holliard's pills last night, it brought a stool or two this morning.” TMI, Pepysie. Too much information, dude.

Consider also the place of stool as a quiet getaway, a spousal retreat, a refugium from household bother. Then must we quote from Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships, better known as Gulliver's Travels (1726 CE), in which noble tome Jonathan Swift did write “Men are never so serious, thoughtful, and intent, as when they are at stool.”

The House of Easement
Every age has employed vulgar toilet terms like bog, close-stool, commode, crapper, the can, cloaca, earth-closet, water closet, privy, jakes, thunder mug, john, throne room, lavatory, bathroom, shitpot, shitter, dumping ground and the endless chain of syrupy infantilisms like the revoltingly twee “poo-poo-ka-ka-doo-doo place.”

And every age has evolved euphemistic ways to avoid saying shithole. My own English favorite is the widely used but now obsoslete Tudor phrase “stool of easement.” When the Norman word aisement first placed its dainty toe upon British soil, easement meant opportunity or ample room to do something. In Old French eise or aise, which would produce English forms later like ease and easy, had a similar sense of ‘enough room to accomplish a task.’ A sixteenth-century history text tells us that “the [Roman] emperor Heliogabalus was killed upon his stool at his easement.”
To the Tudors, easement meant the act of voiding excrement and the place it was done, so that the reader of Tudor history finds items like “to do one’s easement” or in a Tudor glossary of French aller à la selle ‘to go to the stoole of easement.’

In modern English, easement is chiefly a legal term naming the right or privilege of using something not one's own, as in the request for a property easement, so that, for example, a few inches of land legally owned by a neighbour may be occupied by a driveway used by you, free gratis or for a fee paid to grant a right of easement.

Where Shit means “To Break a Leg”
In French Theater slang, “Merde!” (French ‘shit’) said to a performer before going on stage is much like “Break a Leg!” among English-speaking actors, obeying the superstitious belief that actually wishing a performer “Good Luck!” before a performance would jinx it.

In 1455 CE a royal household is provided, in the person of one William Grymesby, with a Yeoman of the King’s Stoole. From 1526 comes this information: “It is the King's pleasure, that Mr. Norres shall be in the roome of Sir William Compton, not onely giveing his attendance as groome of the King's stoole, but in his bed-chamber . . .”

Appended below for your delectation are fecal equivalents worth the knowing.

Shit In Other Languages

- Afrikaans Language : shit

- Albanian Language : mut

- Arabic Language : القرف

- Armenian Language : ԳԱԳԻԿ

- Azerbaijani Language : pox

- Belarusian Language : дзярмо

- Bulgaria Language : глупости

- Catalan Language : merda

- Chinese (Simplified) Language : 屁话

- Chinese (Traditional) Language : 屁話

- Croatian Language : govno

- Czech Language : hovno

- Danish Language : lort

- Dutch Language : stront

- Estonian Language : pask

- Filipino Language : tae

- Finnish Language : paska

- French Language : merde

- Galician Language : merda

- German Language : Scheiße

- Greek Language : σκατά

- Haitian Creole Language : chi

- - Hindi Language : मल

- Hungarian Language : szar

- Icelandic Language : skít

- Indonesian Language : omong kosong

- Irish Language : cac

- Italian Language : merda

- Japanese Language : たわごと

- Latvian Language : sūdi

- Lithuanian Language : šūdas

- Macedonia Language : срања

- Malay Language : omong kosong

- Norwegian Language : dritt

- Persian Language : گه

- Polish Language : gówno

- Portugese Language : merda

- Romanian Language : rahat

- Russian Language : дерьмо

- Serbian Language : говно

- Slovak Language : hovno

- Slovenian Language : drek

- Spanish Language : mierda

- Swedish Language : skit

- Thai Language : อึ

- Turkish Language : bok

- Urdu Language : شٹ

- Vietnamese Language : đi tiêu

- Welsh Language : cacha

- Yiddish Language : דרעק

Vulgar English Synonyms for Stool and Shit
ass goblins
ass kabobs
ass monkeys
black banana
blind eels
chocolate channel chewie
colon cannonballs
corn eyed butt snake
corn massacre
creamy butt nuggets
digested Crayola box
Easter Bunny's present
the fourth teletubby
frightened turtle
hardened fudge nuggets
hell's candy
Indian rug burns
keester cakes
Mississippi mud
monglin cluster shit
mudfat balls
peanut butter poop
potty animals
product of Uranus
sea pickle
sewer serpents
space slug
Super Shit Man
tangy butt nuts
that ain't chocolate puddin'!
tom cruise missiles
toxic turdeys
turd tunnel tasty
yellow submarine
air out the anus
ass sneezing
bust a shit
christen the comfort station
cook some beans
clean one's colon
cut off a load
drop a chalupa
drop ass goblins
drop some friends off at the lake
empty the manure spreader
take a plane crash - no survivors
talk to a man about a horse
blow mud
booty hole burnout
butt dribblets
butt drool
chocolate explosion
G.I. shits
human expresso machine
Montezuma's revenge
oohs and ahs
screaming mimis
supersonic sewer sauce
boggy crapper
toilet bowl stew
cattle cookies
chimp chunks
cow farts
dog logs
doggy sausage
elk duds
lawn sausage
anal impaction

And now, my fecal duty fully discharged, I take my perfumed leave of you all, in sure and certain hope of your readerly attendance upon my next new essay in the easement of small vocabularies.

Bill Casselman, June 29, 2017

Text Copyright 2017 by William Gordon Casselman