Short shot #15: bodily hygiene

Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky writes:

My new employer has a sign in the bathroom exhorting us that for safety reasons we should not use the bathroom for “bodily hygiene”. That’s what the showers in another building are for. Scofflaw that I am, I persist in washing my hands.

It turns out that usage differs on how much bodily hygiene covers. For Elizabeth’s new company, it refers specifically to bathing or showering, that is, to washing the body, and similarly for historian and anthropologist  Alan Macfarlane in an article on bodily hygiene in England:

Buchman writes that ‘probably not until 1850 did regular personal washing become routine in large numbers of middle-class households,’ Plenty of literary and other material can be found to support such a view. For instance, a doctor writing in 1801 remarked that ‘most men resident in London and many ladies though accustomed to wash their hands and faces daily, neglect washing their bodies from year to year.’

On the other hand, there are sites (like this one) that specifically mention “hand hygiene” (washing the hands) as a type of bodily hygiene.

(I’m not sure how washing the hair fits into this picture, but I’ll bet that Elizabeth’s company doesn’t want people washing their hair in the bathrooms.)

Some of the variation in usage no doubt arises from the fact that bodily hygiene and personal hygiene are “semi-technical terms”, not really part of everyday English, which are pressed into service, essentially by stipulation, to refer to categories that have no simple everyday labels.

4 Responses to “Short shot #15: bodily hygiene”

  1. Sam Ley Says:

    I would also call terms like “bodily hygiene” a form of pseudo-jargon. I’m sure there is all sorts of linguistic terminology for this, but I’m sure you are familiar with it as the type of language people use when they are trying to sound technical, in order to either intimidate someone, or avoid an awkward topic by cloaking it in jargon.

    A common use is legal pseudo-jargon, when someone will switch to “lawyerly” speech to threaten you with legal action, “Be prepared to discuss the terms of my lawsuit with your legal counsel!”

    In this case, the sign could have said, “Don’t take showers in the sink – there are actual showers located in building B, lower level.” The “bodily hygiene” term seems to be an attempt to avoid the awkwardness of telling someone not to take a shower. If you are uncomfortable with a topic, just wrap it up in a shield of jargon!

    Also, because you tend to find slang interesting, I’m reminded of the term I’ve heard over the last few years, “whore-shower”, meaning, to cleanse one’s body with moist towelettes, either in a bathroom stall, a car, or some other location not normally associated with “bodily hygiene”.

  2. Kikipotamus the Hobo Says:

    Yeah, I think someone is just trying to sound educated and managerial. But they come off sounding just the opposite.

  3. Rick S Says:

    I grew up with the term “whore’s bath” for washing the torso out of a sink. I occasionally see homeless people doing it at my place of employment–which is rather amazing, since the faucets only dribble and the drains can’t be stopped, specifically to discourage this practice.

  4. mollymooly Says:

    That’s what you Yanks get for calling toilets “bathrooms”. The main bodily hygiene performed therein is not the washing of hands but the egestion and excretion of bodily waste.

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