Thomas Crapper and the Word “Crap”

By Mark Forsyth (edited), excerpt from The Etymologicon

What is the real relationship between Thomas Crapper and the word “crap” (or “crapper”)?

Thomas Crapper was born in Yorkshire in 1836.  In 1853, a year after Edward Jennings’ patented his version of the modern toilet, Crapper moved to London to start an apprenticeship as a plumber. As it turned out, he was an excellent at plumbing, and the 1850s were the golden age of the toilet trader.  The new London sewers meant that everyone could just flush away their troubles.

Thomas Crapper

Crapper was also an excellent entrepreneur; he set up a company, Thomas Crapper & Co., and designed his own line of thrones.  He invented the ballcock for refilling, which stopped water from being wasted, and added extra devices to stop anything unpleasant flowing back into the bowl after the flush.  His were well-designed lavatories, and as a result were widely popular.

Crapper’s bathroom fixtures were chosen for the residence of the Prince of Wales and for the plumbing of Westminster Abbey.  The brand name Crapper was everywhere, but the word “crap” had been around for a while.

Dictionaries claim that “crap” first appeared in the 1840s; but, in fact, the word can be traced back to a poem by J. Churchill published in 1801; a poem written 35 years before Crapper was born.

However, if Crapper’s name didn’t spawn the word “crap,” he associated himself with it closely.  All of his lavatories had Thomas Crapper & Co. stamped on the tanks, and these lavatories were installed all over Britain.  But in America, nobody had ever heard of either Crapper or the word “crap.”

Crapper Inscription on a Lavatory Tank

There isn’t an American reference to crap all through the 19th century.  In fact, there’s nothing before WWI.  Then, in 1917, America declared war on Germany and sent 2.8 million men across the Atlantic where they would have been exposed to the ubiquitous Thomas Crapper & Co. on every second lavatory.

It’s only after WWI that “crap” and “crapper” appear in the United States.  So it would seem that though the English word “crap” doesn’t come from Thomas Crapper, perhaps the American one does.  Even if Crapper didn’t invent it, he definitely was responsible for popularizing the word.

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Sir John Harington: Inventor of the Flush Toilet

Sir John Harington (baptized 4 August 1560 – 20 November 1612), of Kelston, but baptized in London, was an English courtier, author, and translator popularly known as the inventor of the flush toilet.  He became a prominent member of Queen Elizabeth I’s court, and was known as her “saucy Godson.” But because of his spicy poetry and other ribald writings, he fell in and out of favor with the Queen.

Portrait of Sir John Harington

Sir John Harington is best known for his invention of the flush water closet. He installed one at his country house at Kelston, near Bath in Somerset, and described it in a Rabelaisian manner in his A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, called the Metamorphosis of Ajax of 1596. Ajax was a pun on ‘jakes’, which was slang for a privy, where people could simply use a bucket. Wealthy households might have a close-stool, which had a padded seat with a metal or porcelain container beneath it that still had to be emptied.

Harington’s device emptied itself. It had a pan with a seat and water was pumped up into a cistern above. When a handle on the seat was turned, the water swept the pan’s contents into a cesspool underneath. There was a picture of it in his book and he proclaimed that it ‘would make unsavory Places sweet, noisome Places wholesome and filthy Places cleanly’. He installed one for Elizabeth I at Richmond Palace. She does not seem to have been impressed, but then like other rich people she did not have to empty her own close-stool.

A Schematic of John Harington’s Flush Toilet from His Book “Metamorphosis”

A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, called The Metamorphosis of Ajax (1596) is a book that is difficult to classify.  It is divided into 3 sections:

  • It starts with a lengthy prologue justifying its subject, with many examples from biblical and classical sources relating to excretion and the disposal of sewage;
  • It then describes his invention – the first flush toilet. He had installed one in his own house, and persuaded some of his friends to do the same; and
  • Lastly, there’s his “Apology,” a mock description of his trial for having written on so unworthy a subject, which ends, of course, with his triumphant acquittal.

Some view Metamorphosis as a thinly veiled political allegory and a coded attack on the monarchy, with a description of his flush toilet thrown in.

Harington’s invention didn’t catch on.  Unless there are sewers and running water, a flushing toilet was never really going viable for the mass market.  It’s like have an electric lamp with electricity, or skis without snow.  Sewers and running water didn’t arrive in Britain until the mid-19th century, and what we generally think of as a lavatory was patented by Edward Jennings in 1852.  Harington was way ahead of his times.

Americans like to talk about going to the john, and it has been suggested that this is in memory of John Harington.  Unfortunately that’s unlikely, a john in the lavatorial sense didn’t appear until more than a hundred years after Harington’s death.  It is likely that john was an alteration of jake.

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Biram Dah Abeid: Mauritania’s Antislavery Crusader

by Aiden McQuade, Director of Anti-Slavery International [1]

Biram Dah Abeid was just 8 when he became aware of slavery in his home country of Mauritania [locate in northwestern Africa below Morocco].  He saw a defenseless youth being beaten by a man–a common experience, his parents explained, for the thousands of Mauritanians still treated as chattels by their “masters.”  Biram himself was of slave descent; his grandmother was born into slavery.

Biram promised that day that he would resist.  And in 2008, he founded the initiative for the Resurgency of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA-Mauritania).  Alongside other Mauritanian antislavery organizations, such as SOS Enclaves, IRA-Mauritania has sought to break the official silence that enables slavery to persist by using nonviolent tactics: reporting and publicizing cases, assisting victims and holding sit-ins and demonstrations.

For this, Biram and his colleagues have been imprisoned on numerous occasions.  But those instances, coupled with Biram’s pledges to run for President of Mauritania, have only drawn more international attention to Mauritanian slavery and bolstered Biram’s reputation.  He is an inspiration.  He is an inspiration to thousands who continue to resist slavery in Mauritania and beyond.


[1] First appeared in Time magazine

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More Playground Equipment in Sacred Valley, Peru

Recently, the Cardenas-Torres family installed additional pieces of playground equipment:  (1) two downsized combination soccer goal and basketball standard and (2) a tether ball pole using a sock in lieu of a tether ball.  They were installed at the Urco Primary School located near Calca in Sacred Valley, Peru.

Fabricating the Combination Soccer/Basketball Unit

Children at Urco Ready to Enjoy Their New Soccer/Basket Unit

Fabricators–David and John–Trying Out the Tether Ball Unit

This is the first time we have installed tether balls poles and combination soccer/basketball units.

A Downsized Combination Soccer Goal/Basketball Standard Was Recently Installed at a Primary School in Sacred Valley, Peru

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Rebuilding the Navajo Playground in Aneth UT

Years ago, the Aneth Chapter of the Navajo Nation had a playground just north of their Chapterhouse.  The Aneth Chapter is located in the southeastern corner of Utah in the 4-Corners region.

The original playground had fallen into serious disrepair.  It was decided to start the rehab by installing playground equipment (Phase I).  The Chapter used its grader to level the area.

Preparing the Aneth Playground Area

Commercial-quality playground equipment was located on KSL-classified.  It was purchased and transported to the site by Navajo Santa (a SLC-based NGO).  The equipment included: a swing set, a spinner, a circular slide, and a monkey bar set.

Assembling the Monkey Bar Set at the New Aneth Playground

The equipment was installed by a crew hired by the Aneth Chapter.  The monkey bar set was in pieces with no assembly instructions, but the crew was able to figure out the complicated puzzle.  A backhoe was used to lift the playground equipment in place.

The Completed Phase I of the Aneth Playground

Phase I of the playground is now in place.  Future work includes developing the slope that leads down to the general playground area.  This new development will include slides, a climbing wall, fire pole, and terracing.

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LDS Church Donations

According to a recent Salt Lake Tribune article:

On behalf of the Mormon church, four female leaders donated $120,000 on Thursday to community centers in Utah to expand medical services for children who have been abused.

Also, according to a recent article in the Deseret News:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints dedicated a temple in Philadelphia, but Wednesday another building opened in Philadelphia that was built in part thanks to a donation [estimated at $2.5M] by the LDS Church.

While I applaud the former, I’m much less excited about the latter.  In fact, I wish the 2 had been reversed, with $2.5 million going for medical services to children around the world “who have been abused.”  After all, the LDS Church is a global church.

It would be worthwhile if the Church leadership set up a non-GA advisory council to make recommendations on potential charitable donations.  They could provide a valuable service by helping to establish priorities.

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Why Do Successful Organizations Do Stupid Things?

By Tom Harvey (, 24 Apr 2017)

“Why is it that companies at the top of their game do stupid things?” Ed Catmull, animation pioneer and co-founder of Pixar, wondered.

Ed Catmull, Co-founder of Pixar

Even in his own company, things didn’t always go well — despite “Toy Story’s” phenomenal run after its 1995 release.

Catmull said he and other managers were shocked to find that they didn’t see divisions within the company during the making of “Toy Story.” Production managers felt marginalized and disrespected by the creative teams — and they were.

His dream of making the first feature-length animated movie realized, Catmull shifted his passion to understanding why companies made bad decisions after initial successes and trying to figure out how he could help nurture and sustain creativity at Pixar.

For him, it’s less about bosses managing creativity than getting out of the way.

That involves removing hierarchy from meetings and communication.

“It isn’t easy,” Catmull said. “You have to pay continual attention to it.”

“Ed’s story is clear,” Josh James [one Utah’s most successful tech entrepreneurs], said in an email. “While data and technology are important, success really comes down to the people in your organization. His story challenges you to think if you, as a leader, are creating the right environment to get the best out of all the people on your teams.”

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