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Scottish word of the week: Gardyloo

Sailors on the sewage boat MV Gardyloo, hopefully not planning to throw chamber pots into the sea. Picture: Neil Hanna

Sailors on the sewage boat MV Gardyloo, hopefully not planning to throw chamber pots into the sea. Picture: Neil Hanna

SYNONYMOUS with Scots but almost certainly of French origin, gardyloo was a warning for passersby to watch out for waste water from freshly emptied chamber pots.

In use since the medieval period, pedestrians knew to move sharply out the way when gardyloo was hollered from the upper floors of a house or tenement building. Narrow alleys and thoroughfares would make this task more tricky than it sometimes ought to have been, especially in space-starved cities such as Edinburgh where the cry was heard often.

It is likely that gardyloo comes from the French term regardez l’eau, which was also a warning to people that toilet water was about to be emptied onto the street. Legend has it that the 12th century French King Phillipe Auguste was covered in the contents of a chamber pot, and decreed that all upstairs residents were obliged to warn pedestrians before throwing out waste water.

Proper sewage systems meant that the term became obsolete by the 1930s, but the word is far from forgotten. A letter submitted to the Scotsman’s sister paper, the Edinburgh Evening News, complains about the state of Edinburgh’s streets as being reminiscent of the capital in centuries past.

 

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