Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona, just for fun. Advertising-free, supported by my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

What the word toilet meant in old-time Phoenix


It's often shocking, and sometimes humorous, to see how the language has changed over the years. If you like looking at old ads, like I do, you will often see the word "toilet", which today means something that sits in your bathroom made out of porcelain. But if we time-travel a bit, and go back to old-time Phoenix (or anywhere in the United States) in 1913, the meaning is different. And once you know that, the ads don't seem quite so shocking, or as humorous.

If you were a lady of refinement in Phoenix in 1913 and walked into City Drug Store, which was on Adams at 1st Avenue, and asked for toilet water, the owner of the store wouldn't just point you to the bathroom where his dog might be having a drink. No, toilet water would have been a nice-smelling perfumed water, manufactured by Palmer, Colgate, Roger & Gallet, Pinaud, Pivier, Hanbigant, or Guerlain. Speaking for myself, I'd probably go with something French-sounding, probably not Colgate.

And that would go for anything that was labelled toilet, including powders, creams, soaps, brushes and combs. Because toilet was a polite term that referred to a place where a lady (or a gentleman) would get all cleaned up, hair nicely combed, smelling good, that sort of thing. Far from being a slightly obscene word, it was a fussy word. The butler might say, "Pardon, but madam is attending to her toilet, and will be right down." And when she greeted her guests, she would be beautiful and all gussied up, not wearing rubber gloves and smelling slightly of bleach.

Times change, and the way that we use words does, too.

Image at the top of this post: Ad for toilet articles available at the City Drug Store in 1913, Adams and 1st Avenue, Phoenix, Arizona.

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