Love toilet

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James Errington sends this along via Twitter:

(Not to be confused with Saturday Night Live's Love Toilet…)

So, what is this àixīn wèishēngjiān 爱心卫生间 if it is not a "Love toilet"? There's no problem with wèishēngjiān, which does mean "toilet", but àixīn 爱心 can mean "love, benevolence, compassion". In this case, àixīn wèishēngjiān 爱心卫生间 is a toilet made and/or maintained by a benevolent or charitable group for those who cannot afford a pay toilet.

Incidentally, the photograph above was taken in the Sibsongbanna (compare Thai Sipsongpanna สิบสองพันนา ["twelve thousand rice fields"]) Airport in the heart of the Tai-speaking area of southernmost Yunnan Province.

[Thanks to Gianni Wan, Fangyi Cheng, and Rebecca Fu]

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36 Comments »

  1. Gianni said,

    February 1, 2013 @ 6:01 pm

    I used to be a member of an influential student club at Beida named àixīnshè 爱心社, and for a long time we have to translate our club as "Love Heart Society", a cannibal name; or "Love Society", a name of some erotic connotation. Now I use "Benevolence Club" in my resume for this activity lol

  2. chris said,

    February 2, 2013 @ 8:52 am

    "Benevolent toilet" wouldn't really be that much better, though. I think the problem is just that English doesn't have a word for this sort of thing, so it's going to take a lengthy explanation to get the point across.

    Although it's the culture as much as the language — any US and, I assume, UK, Canadian, or Australian airport would have non-pay toilets provided by the organization that runs the airport (usually a government, so everyone has already paid for the toilet via their taxes) as a matter of course. If we had the thing, we'd have a word/phrase for it.

  3. Eric P Smith said,

    February 2, 2013 @ 9:24 am

    "English doesn't have a word for this sort of thing." Charity toilet?

  4. Steve said,

    February 2, 2013 @ 10:00 am

    Wonderful.

    Following the "Motel" -> "Love Motel" pattern, I was hoping for some kind of pay-per-minute kinky loo, with fur walls, and separate exits for furtive lovers.

    Seriously though, wouldn't native-speakers also have to double-take a bit when they saw 爱心卫生间 for the first time?

  5. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 2, 2013 @ 10:59 am

    English "charity" comes (I think via Old French) from Latin "caritas" which is sometimes best rendered in English as "charity" and other times as "love" (e.g. "Deus caritas est" = "God is love"). So there's nothing particularly exotic about the semantic range of "àixīn."

  6. julie lee said,

    February 2, 2013 @ 12:36 pm

    When I first saw the the sign "愛心衛生間" in this Language Log , it stumped me, but then I quickly translated it into "benevolence toilet" or "charity toilet" in my mind, thinking it meant "have-consideration-for-others-please-toilet" because I know public toilets can be very dirty. In my few visits to China recently, there were modern clean toilets in the hotel or private homes, and I never used public toilets, but public toilets used to be dreadful. When I lived in the Taiwan University girls' dorm in the 50s, the one toilet (with four or five cubicles) which all the girls in our building shared was horrible. The flush in the flush toilets (no toilet seats kind) mostly didn't work, and you could hardly find a clean spot to stand on. There would be icky stuff on the floor. Also no toilet paper. My mom attributed it all to "no public consideration among the Chinese. So many Chinese are fastidious in private but inconsiderate in public." That's why I thought the sign mean "consideration-please toilet".

  7. jan Rivera said,

    February 2, 2013 @ 1:07 pm

    What's wrong with "No-Charge Toliet"?

  8. Lacey Mair said,

    February 2, 2013 @ 3:39 pm

    Free Love Free Toilet for the Free Spirited. Glad its still a part of society.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    February 2, 2013 @ 3:46 pm

    @Steve

    You're right. I asked about half-a-dozen native speakers, and they were all more or less discombobulated about how to deal with the "love" in conjunction with "toilet". The comments of Gianni and juli lee attest to this uneasiness.

  10. maidhc said,

    February 2, 2013 @ 5:16 pm

    Privately funded free public toilet.

    In the US the question usually has to do with providing toilets for homeless people. Usually people want local governments to provide them, but I think there have been some cases where local merchants have contributed, with the goal of keeping the neighborhood a bit cleaner so as not to drive customers away.

    I don't think there is a special term for them though.

  11. michael farris said,

    February 2, 2013 @ 5:31 pm

    What about "toilet sponsored by X" (where X is the name of the organization).

    Although I've gotta say I find the word 'toilet' a little too… common (it's not a room, it's a piece of equipment) and would go for something much more euphemistic 'Public restroom sponsored by X"

  12. Mr Punch said,

    February 2, 2013 @ 5:39 pm

    @chris – In my youth ('50s and '60s) pay toilets were prevalent in public places such as airports in the US – so we could have had a term for free toilets, though I don't remember one.

  13. Ellen K. said,

    February 2, 2013 @ 5:44 pm

    I believe in some places "toilet" is still used to refer to the room where the device is rather than to the device. I assume this is why the signs in Ireland say "toilet".

    So while in the U.S. the word "toilet" here wouldn't be appropriate, this isn't in the U.S. and isn't necessarily U.S. English.

  14. Rob H said,

    February 2, 2013 @ 6:09 pm

    @Michael Farris, @Ellen K. : 'Toilet' is the mainstream word for the room in the UK, though in recent years I have started hearing a few people say 'bathroom'. I remember when I first heard that usage, 30 years ago from a Canadian, and was momentarily baffled then wildly amused that someone would refer thus to a room where they knew there was no bath nor had any intention of bathing.But that's dialectal differences for you. I also think UKnians are far more aware of the North American usage these days.

  15. Theophylact said,

    February 2, 2013 @ 6:19 pm

    Spend a penny

  16. Narmitaj said,

    February 2, 2013 @ 8:46 pm

    Does anyone else call them the equivalent of the "Public Conveniences" of the UK? It may be a term that's a tad opaquely euphemistic for foreign visitors – all sorts of things provided for the public might be thought equally convenient, such as road crossings, wooden benches, street lighting and green parks.

    They tend to be funded by local councils, not charities, though. Or underfunded – http://www.publicconvenience.co.uk/ is a site (looking a bit like a spoof, mind you) that aims to put a bit of oomph back into the provision of public toilets: "Everybody needs a place to go, and not just any old place but somewhere that contributes dynamically to its environment. Working with local people, planners, designers, architects and retailers, PUBLIC CONVENIENCE is looking at how public toilets can be transformed into vibrant, meaningful spaces".

  17. John said,

    February 2, 2013 @ 9:31 pm

    In my New England childhood of the 1950s, it was "The Lav".

  18. Azimuth said,

    February 2, 2013 @ 10:57 pm

    "a toilet made and/or maintained by a benevolent or charitable group for those who cannot afford a pay toilet."

    —we need this in New York City. Oh, boy. But what to call it?

    Courtesy toilet?
    Adopt-a-Toilet?
    Public Porcelain?
    Bowls-for-Bums? (Get it?)
    JiffyJohn?

  19. Diane said,

    February 3, 2013 @ 2:22 pm

    This makes me think of that famous verse from First Corinthians, chapter 13: Faith, Hope and Love, abide these three, but the greatest of these is love — which the King James Bible translates as Faith, Hope and CHARITY.

    I think perhaps this is a Charity Toilet…

  20. EndlessWaves said,

    February 3, 2013 @ 8:16 pm

    Narmitaj: Is that not what this is?

    An explicit sign would be that this was a free toilet or that it had been sponsored by a particular charity. Calling it a 'charitable toilet' could be interpreted in a number of ways, for example a pay toilet where the money goes to charity,

    Whether the indirectness is about euphemism (are free toilets looked down on?), a sign that wasn't well thought out or something else I don't know.

  21. Rodger C said,

    February 4, 2013 @ 8:10 am

    Agapaic Toilet!

  22. Narmitaj said,

    February 4, 2013 @ 10:04 am

    @ EndlessWaves "Narmitaj: Is that not what this is?"

    The euphemism I was concerned with was "convenience" in place of "toilet", a toilet being exclusively (these days) a room or fixture to urinate and defecate in, whereas a convenience could be all sorts of things that are nothing to do with bodily waste disposal.

  23. Ted said,

    February 4, 2013 @ 10:19 am

    Here in the US one sometimes hears "facilities," as in a highway rest stop that warns "No Facilities."

    Personally, I think that's rather facile.

  24. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 4, 2013 @ 11:20 am

    I do like Rodger C.'s agapaic, but I think "Eleemosynary Toilet" would be more idiomatic (while still eyecatching) in English. (And IIRC the underlying Greek word there as used in biblical contexts sometimes comes out in English as lovingkindness, even though its root is usually Englished "mercy" and not on the canonical list of the 3 or 4 different Greek words for "love".)

  25. Glen Gordon said,

    February 4, 2013 @ 4:43 pm

    Hilarious. Providing free-of-charge toilets is somehow "compassionate" now? Go figure. And here I thought it was practically mandatory in a civilized world. Coin-operated stalls are hard to find in Canada where we feel that poor people have just as much right to doodoo as rich snobs do! LOL! I can't imagine someone in hard times being reduced to, "Oh dear, the coin-operated toilets are getting much too expensive. I guess I'll have to cut down on $#!+ing expenses." We can't let this happen to people. Let's start a LOVE TOILET campaign to end this apartheid once and for all! Hahaha. Everyone should have the right to one free bowel movement a day.

  26. David B Solnit said,

    February 4, 2013 @ 4:59 pm

    A note on Sipsongpanna: it probably doesn't literally mean "twelve thousand ricefields." A panna is an old administrative unit, so a better translation would be "The Twelve Districts." In support, note that the usual way to say "twelve thousand" would not be sip sɔŋ pan but something like mɯn sɔŋ pan, using the unitary morpheme mɯn "ten thousand" followed by "two" and "thousand" (I'm extrapolating from Standard Thai mɯ̀n sɔ̌ɔŋ phan). See http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/asean_0859-9009_2004_num_14_1_1834).
    It may well be that etymologically panna does mean "thousand ricefields," but I bet that if you counted all the ricefields in a panna and found only 927, it would still be a panna.

  27. Victor Mair said,

    February 4, 2013 @ 7:59 pm

    Glen Gordon's comment made me laugh so hard and so long that I almost did something in my pants, but I wasn't near a Love Toilet, so I really had to fight hard to hold it.

    After I regained my composure and read David Solnit's interesting reinterpretation of Sipsongpanna, I was stunned by the similarity of Tai mɯn ("ten thousand") and Mandarin wàn 萬 ("ten thousand"), pronounced maan6 in Cantonese, and couldn't help but wonder whether Tai borrowed this number from Chinese or vice versa, and also whether other parts of the Sinitic and Tai number system were similar.

  28. Guy said,

    February 4, 2013 @ 9:13 pm

    Yes, numbers in Thai and southern Chinese dialects tend to be very similar.

    Cantonese: yut, yee, saam, sei, ng, luk, chat, baaht, gau, sup
    Thai: neung, saawng, saam, si, ngua, hohk, chet, baat, gao, sip

  29. Justin McDaniel said,

    February 4, 2013 @ 10:50 pm

    Yes, Cantonese and Thai numbers are very close. Five in Thai is pronounced "haa" and not "ngua" though.

  30. Gianni said,

    February 5, 2013 @ 7:30 pm

    What are Thai words for hundred and thousand, then?

  31. Victor Mair said,

    February 5, 2013 @ 10:43 pm

    From Gianni Wan and Jing Wen:

    The Wikipedia page on "Myriad" seems to be surprisingly informative:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myriad

    It is of note that the Greeks count millions to be "hundred myriads", which is the same as the Chinese. The Scandinavian mile is also interesting. Other languages possessing the same term, Amharic, Hebrew, and the Dravidian languages, might be related to an ancient common origin. The Egyptian word for myriad is jeba' (not using the standard transliteration), somewhat related to the Amharic and Hebrew form, all of Afro-Asiatic origin.

    Greek friends once told us that the word myriad comes from Anc. Gr. μύρμηγξ, "ant", from Pokorny's PIE root moru̯ī̆-. This is understandable because of its large quantity, while the graph 萬 in the OBI is in the form of a scorpion. I think they are somewhat similar and parallel.

  32. Gregory Bryce said,

    February 6, 2013 @ 1:28 pm

    Julie Lee:

    I was startled and briefly mystified by your sentence, "When I lived in the Taiwan University girls' dorm in the 50s, the one toilet (with four or five cubicles) which all the girls in our building shared was horrible."

    I thought, "Why would they have four or five cubicles but only one with a toilet in it?"

    In Canada, and I think in the U.S., the ceramic plumbing appliance is a toilet. What do you call that? A water closet or WC, as in the UK? Those terms are almost never used in North America, though I may have encountered them in print ads (adverts?) for plumbing equipment.

    Within families, mostly to children, one does say, "Do you need to go to the toilet [or "go to the bathroom"] before we leave?" Since childhood, I have always understood that to mean, "Do you need urinate or defecate?" rather than "Do you need to visit the room where the toilet is located?"

    In Canada, the room in a house or apartment where the toilet is located is generally called the bathroom. In all but the oldest houses, it always includes a sink. In the bedroom area of the house, it also always includes a bathtub, which almost always has a built-in shower these days.

    In public places, we usually refer to washrooms, though one does occasionally encounter the American term restroom. Terms such as ladies' room and men's room are also widely used in public places, but less so in Canada than the U.S., I think.

    Hmmm. I wonder why the spell-check function is highlighting men's.

  33. Gianni said,

    February 6, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

    It reminds me of a photo taken by a friend, and I post it on Flickr:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/35335670@N08/8451533284/in/photostream

  34. David B Solnit said,

    February 6, 2013 @ 2:09 pm

    The numerals 2-10, hundred, and myriad are part of an extensive body of Chinese loans into Tai, some at least at the proto-Tai level. Standard Thai rɔ́ɔj 'hundred' is not one of these loanwords: a word originally referring to a string of 100 coins has replaced the Chinese loanword that survives in e.g. Shan paak2; cf 白, Mandarin bái .
    I can't say definitively about 'thousand' but the Standard Thai word phan, and similar forms in other Southwestern Tai, would indicate an earlier *banA, not Chinese-looking. Elsewhere in the family we do have forms like Wuming (Northern Tai) ɕiːn1, an obvious Chinese borrowing (千 qiān).

  35. Gianni said,

    February 7, 2013 @ 9:02 am

    Thank you very much, David!

    It is interesting that there is a word in Standard Thai rɔ́ɔj meaning 'hundred' (the system cannot display it correctly, though). Could the word referring to a string of 100 coins, suǒ 索 OC. sraːɡ, be associated with this loanword? Actually suǒ is a word for the term "bamboo" in the game Mahjong, which I think originally means 100 coins. And obviously the other two types of simple Mahjong tiles, characters wàn 萬 (myriad) and circles tǒng 筒 or bǐng 餅, means 10,000 coins and one coin. lol

  36. julie lee said,

    February 7, 2013 @ 11:12 am

    @Gregory Bryce

    Gregory, yes the toilet can mean the plumbing equipment or the room, "lavatory" as we said in boarding school, and I meant the room. By the way, the Taiwan University girls dorm where I lived had about 150-200 girls in it, with this one lavatory. It was a two-storey building, and there were at least 10 girls in each room. I'm sure things are much better now.

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