What do you think of when you hear the word ‘lavatory’? Out ‘on the street’, I have heard the word used to describe a washroom…or to describe the sink in the washroom…or as a politically-correct label for the toilet. I can even remember a Monty Python skit about lumberjacks and lava-trees! 😉
When I was learning the language of design, I found that these three definitions are fairly common uses of the word which led to great confusion for myself and my fellow students in our first bath design class. You see, in the field of bath design and plumbing, a lavatory is the sink used in the washroom.
Doing a little research into the word, I found that when a sink is intended for any purpose other than a wash basin, then it is called a sink. When its sole purpose is to be a wash basin, then it is called a lavatory. The word comes from the root word ‘lavare’ meaning ‘to wash’. This is why you still find that when purchasing plumbing fixtures today, you buy a sink for a kitchen and a lavatory for a bathroom.
Somewhere in the 1600s, the word started to be used for the room that contained the lavatory and the toilet, not just for the wash basin itself. By the time the Victorian era came along and they were busy finding dignified ways of saying things, the word was first used as a euphemism for the toilet.
Now, the next time you are doing a kitchen or bath remodel, you will know whether you need to go shopping for a sink or for a lavatory.