The following is the result of my research for the origin of the term
"head" to define a ship's toilet:
Head (ship's toilet)
"The use of the term "head" to refer to a ship's toilet dates to at
least as early as 1708, when Woodes Rogers (English privateer and
Governor of the Bahamas) used the word in his book, A Cruising Voyage
Around the World. Another early usage is in Tobias Smollett's novel of
travel and adventure, Roderick Random, published in 1748. "Head" in a
nautical sense referring to the bow or fore part of a ship dates to
1485. The ship's toilet was typically placed at the head of the ship
near the base of the bowsprit, where splashing water served to
naturally clean the toilet area."
Source of Information:
Kemp, Peter. The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea. (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1976): 381.
Oxford English Dictionary. vol.5 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1933): 142.
Partridge, Eric. A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. 8th
ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1984): 540
The Visual Dictionary of Ships and Sailing. (New York: Dorling
Kindersley, 1991): 16.
Naval Historical Center: Nautical Terms and Phrases...Their Meaning and Origin
What is the origin of the nautical term "head," meaning "toilet"?
"As early as 1485, the nautical term "Head" referred to the bow or
front part of a ship. Typically, the ship's toilet was placed at the
head of the ship so that splashing water could naturally clean the
toilet area (for that salty-fresh smell!). The use of the term "head"
to mean toilet dates back to at least 1708, when English privateer and
Governor of the Bahamas, Woodes Rogers, used the word to refer to a
ship's toilet in his book, A Cruising Voyage Around the World. Another
early usage is in Tobias Smollett's novel of travel and adventure,
Roderick Random, published in 1748."
The Toilet Museum: Toilet FAQs
How did the toilet on a boat come to be called "the head"?
"According to the U.S. Navy, the term "the head" for the ship's
toilet, comes from the days of sailing ships when the place for the
crew to relieve themselves was all the way forward on either side of
the bowsprit, the integral part of the hull to which the figurehead
was fastened. Before the days of toilets, some ships even had a tiny
grated platform, at the bow of the ship for sailor's to use as a
makeshift bathroom. By being in the very front of the ship, the area
naturally became cleaned by splashing waves, and kept odors away from
the rest of the crew.
While many larger sail boats today have more modern conveniences, from
toilets to showers to full spas (on the cruise ships) the name head,
for the boat's toilet remains."
Dear Uncle Ezra
Head - Ship's Toilet
"In the days of old square riggers that could only sail down wind, the
toilet was merely a hole cut in a plank hung out overboard on the
downwind most end of the boat, the bow, often called the "head" of the
boat. That way any odors were blow ahead of the ship. Thus the toilet
became known as the head because of it's historical location on the
Why do they call it the head, a Navy term for bathroom or toilet?
Where did it originate?
"The ship's toilet was typically placed at the head of the ship near
the base of the bowsprit, where splashing water served to naturally
clean the toilet area," according to the Naval Historical Center.
Makes sense that the term, which appeared as early as 1708 in "A
Cruising Voyage Around the World" by Woodes Rogers, would outlast the
restroom's physical location on a ship."
Google's cache of http://www.coxnetspecialedition.com/se/content/biztech/12/26consumer.html
"Head (toilet) - A ship's toilet get's its name from where it was
located. A wooden sailing ship did not exactly have plumbing for hot
and cold running water. And because of the curve of the hull, one
didn't just hang their 'behind' over the side and count on the waste
going directly into the sea instead of dirtying one's ship. Anyone
caught trying this method was assured of punishment.
There was one place where a toilet seat could be located where waste
would not only be sure to fall into the sea, but would also insure the
sea would fully flush the waste away. That was in the structure up on
the bows by the ship's figurehead. So a ship's toilet gets its name
from its location on the ship."
Google's cache of
navy describe toilet head
origin "ship's toilet" head
"ship's toilet" head
"A Cruising Voyage Around the World" toilet head
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