Date: Thu, 16 Feb 1995 13:45:33 EST
From: Larry Horn LHORN[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]YALEVM.CIS.YALE.EDU
Subject: Re: jakes
And Farmer & Henley's Slang compendium (1890-1904, reprinted Arno Press, 1970)
lists 'jakes' as "old colloquial" (for 'a privy', 'a house of office' [talk
about your euphemisms!). They have a citation from 1550, and suggest 'that
jakes was originally Jake's or Jack's, a humorous euphemism'. F & H give Jack
as a Scottish version, as well as Ajax ('pronounced with both a's long') as a
pun on 'a jakes' to which both Jonson and Shakespeare resorted. They comment:
The cause of all this vein of low wit was perhaps Sir John Harrington,
who in 1596 published his celebrated tract called "The Metamorphosis of
Ajax", by which he meant 'the improvement of a jakes', or necessary, by
forming it into what we now call a water-closet, of which Sir John was
clearly the inventor. For this offence to her delicacy, Queen Elizabeth
kept him for some time in disgrace.
I suppose she could have stowed poor Sir John someplace a bit worse...