Terms of indoor-ment

Posted on May 1, 2015


Every time I return from a trip abroad, the one thing I’m glad to return to is the health faucet, even if I’ve never really figured out why it is called that. We are unafraid to announce other parts of the anatomy. Without a care, we say “eye shadow,” “ear buds,” “nose ring,” “tongue piercing,” “mouth rinse,” “arm band,” “chest compress,” “toe socks,” “thigh-high boots,” even “navel lint.” I mean, I don’t want to be near anyone who can casually bring up “navel lint” in a conversation, but the point is that the term exists and it’s technically okay to be used in civilised discourse, as much as discourse around navel lint can be civilised. But then, suddenly… “health faucet,” suggesting a spigot on a cask filled with Ayurvedic goodness. Open the faucet, and you get… health.

A similar kind of squeamishness exists with where we use the health faucet. “Bathroom,” we say. Or “rest room.” The first time I heard the latter term, I thought it was some kind of heaven filled with hammocks and music systems playing Gregorian chants at low volumes, as waiters tiptoed around with trays of piña coladas. And then I found out. Why “rest room”? We don’t rest in that room, do we? We scurry in, scurry out. That’s the opposite of “rest.” Maybe we linger long enough to take a crack at the crossword. Ten minutes tops. Even then, hardly “rest” – unless we’re talking some extreme form of power-napping.

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I suppose these euphemisms exist because we can’t call the health faucet, say, a “bum hose” – though, personally, I don’t see why it’s okay to say things like “bum deal” and “bum rap” (no, that’s not a slap on your bottom, you pervert) amidst company and not okay to use “bum” to refer to a part of the anatomy, a very comfortable and useful part, if I may add. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m coming off, at this point, like Hermione from the Harry Potter books, who was so outraged by the treatment meted out to house elves – the, um, bottom feeders of the magic world – that she started the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (SPEW). But don’t worry. I am not about to start, say, a Society for Honouring Intestinal Travails (I’m not spelling out the acronym in this family newspaper).

Still, it’s something when even doctors, who are among the least squeamish people ever (I mean, anyone who can look you in the eye and say things like “Take off your clothes and lie down” has, long ago, crossed the boundaries of squeamishness), prefer to say things like “stool sample,” as if they wanted an idea what the furniture they ordered would look like. Or else they say “faecal matter,” which sounds so grown-up and serious. It’s a faecal matter of grave importance. It’s some kind of discrimination, surely, when it’s perfectly legit to say “vomit” in public. No one beats around the bush. No one says “stomach sample.” If I cared enough, I’d be outraged. I’d be holding up placards. I’d gather crowds until the cops dispersed us using industrial-strength health faucets.

Anyway, whatever we call it, I’m just glad the health faucet exists. I’ve gotten into sticky situations without one. There was this time I checked into a hotel, and the sink in the “rest room” had two glasses – so you could drink water from the tap. You just need one glass for that, so I set the other one in a corner. In the absence of a health faucet, you just improvise. The system worked fine for a couple of days, until an overeager cleaning lady replaced the glass in its original place. Now which was which? I kept looking in dismay at the two glasses, hoping for a sign. Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is a bum deal.