Thursday, July 08, 2010

Arrivederci Backowsa

The biffie, backhouse, port-a-potty - whatever you choose to call it - is going (pardon the pun) at last. For two years the thing has been resident in the driveway and has served its purpose. Ugh. But now we're saying goodbye, good luck and good riddance!

I worked with an Italian man years ago who told me that as a child, in his family "backowsa" was the Italian word they used for toilet. Many years later in conversation with other Italian speakers,  he realized "backhowsa" was his Italian families fractured version of "backhouse".  And so new words get incorporated into the language.

While we were traveling in Syria our friend Abdul speculated that the crescent moon on the front of the backhouse door might be a kind of subtle slap at Arabs. I've done a little Googling and can't find any associations of the symbol with this. Most sources say that the crescent moon stood for women while the men's outhouses sported a star. Men's outhouses usually fell apart or became impossible to use, so everyone eventually used the women's and the crescent came to mean "outhouse" - for everyone. 

Our Australian friends call us Seppos from time to time. Why? During WW2, when the American troops set up a camp anywhere the first thing they did was dig a latrine. So our friends say is how the expression started. Looking the origin up on line I found that it has a cockney origin. American were "yanks" and the Brits rhymed it with septic tanks which in Australian baby talk slang (sorry guys) morphed into Seppos.

My friend Beth was responsible for the port-a-potties at an event and always unique in her approach, she decorated them with handful of herbs. I admired this creativity which is typical of her - she will make the extra effort to do the very best job she can - no matter how shitty it is.  

Which brings to mind (why?) the famous brick shithouses that some women apparently resemble. This horrible sounding but complimentary expression had its origin in the fact that the brick back house was  outstandingly well built in comparison to the flimsy wooden variety. Ergo, if she is built like a brick shithouse then she is fantastic. 

Does "having your shit together" have it's origin in having a neat and tidy backhouse?

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