What Is the Meaning of a Water Closet?

Water closet is an old expression rarely used today because it has been outdated and replaced by other expressions. It is sometimes encountered in older literature and period pieces of the 19th centure. For students wondering what this phrase means, or for those curious about its originations there is a very simple explanation.


The definition of water closet goes back to the very invention of the toilet. This invention, created in 1884 was billed as a device that allowed people to go to the bathroom in the privacy of their own homes. The water closet was similar to the toilets of today, with a pneumatic water delivery system that featured the u-shaped trap and a bowl, which is familiar to anyone who has a toilet today.

Inventor of the Water Closet

The inventor of the water closet was a man named Alexander Cummings. It was made by a company called Henry Huber & Co. The water closet initially sold to homeowners and others able to afford it but soon it spread and became widely adopted. The system itself is responsible for changing the way humans dispelled of waste and is therefore an instrumental invention that changed sanitation. This is why the term water closet became so widespread.


The actual term water closet is applied to any room that holds a toilet, or flushable waste expulsion system. Although the initial flushable toilet was also called a water closet, the terminology evolved to include the room that held the toilet. This is probably due to the fact that the main reason to visit this room is to use the flushable toilet, which is referred to by the same name. These rooms often held sinks and faucets along with a bathtub.

Usage and Abbreviations

Water closet is the way many refer to the bathroom in the U.K. It is often abbreviated as on doors or in signage, as W.C. In some cases, the term water closet might refer to any room with a sink bowl, faucet or wash basin. It typically indicates running water, in other words. If no toilet is present, it is safe to assume the room with the ability to at least clean ones hands and face is given the name water closet.