On a recent flight from Washington, District of Columbia, to Chicago, I got to the airport only to find out that I was No. 1 on the list for an upgrade to first class. The problem was that first class checked in full. What that translated to was that I was the first loser in the bid to get an upgrade to first class.

Oh, well. I boarded the plane and took my seat in coach. Shortly after getting settled in my seat, my name was announced, saying that I was upgraded to first class. As I moved to the first class cabin, I saw a good-looking, well-dressed guy giving up his first class seat and moving to coach. When I looked again, I said to myself, “Oh my gosh, that’s Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House.”

As Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan is entitled to fly a private Air Force jet to and from his district in Wisconsin, not far from O’Hare airport in Chicago. But, like the prior Speaker of the House, Rep. Ryan flies commercial airlines. Not only that, but he gives up his first-class seats and lets others get upgraded to first class. So, “Thank you, Mr. Speaker.”

As I was enjoying my first-class seat, Tammy Duckworth boarded the same flight to Chicago. Tammy was, at the time, a congresswoman from Illinois; she is now a newly elected senator from Illinois. In defense of our elected officials, both individuals were delightful people. They were very open and willing to talk to everyone. It made you feel good about your elected officials.

Now that the election season is over and we will soon inaugurate a new president, I thought I would address the issue of political correctness, which was one of the themes of the recent election. While there are complaints about political correctness, the change in words we use is not new. It hasn’t happened just recently. Political correctness has always existed in this country. It has been a way to desensitize words that may appear offensive. The plumbing world is no different from the rest of the country when it comes to political correctness. We have been changing words since plumbing was brought indoors. We continue to change plumbing words.

If you study words, sometimes the change for political correctness becomes offensive many years later and we either change it back to the original word or search for a new word. Let me give you an example. During the Civil War, General Hooker happened to like having prostitutes around. He indulged, and he allowed his soldiers to indulge. He thought it was good for morale. However, “prostitute” sounds so crude and uncultured. So the soldiers came up with a new way to identify the ladies: They were called Hooker’s girls (it was later shortened to “hookers,” which is a true story, by the way).

Of course, today, “hooker” sounds so crude and uncultured. So we changed the term to “ladies of the evening.” Who knows how long it will take to change that term?


A movement of change

As for plumbing political correctness, I am often asked why I refer to a toilet as a “water closet.” The reason being is that “water closet” is the proper, technical title of the fixture. However, many years ago, “water closet” sounded crude. So the American public needed a new term that didn’t sound so coarse. We stole a French word and Americanized it. Toilette became toilet. Toilette means “to dress” in French. Hence, when women wear “eau de toilette,” it is “water to dress,” or perfume. It isn’t water closet water or toilet water.

So, the fixture became a toilet rather than the crude “water closet,” or WC. Today, toilet seems crude and water closet seems pleasant. It is amazing how words change.

There has been a movement to change other terms that have been near and dear to our hearts in the plumbing profession. The most recent change that you need to make is the end of the pipe and fittings. We are no longer allowed to use the term “male threads” or “female threads.” Again, that is politically incorrect and insensitive. I remember being told, as an apprentice, that you tell the difference because the male thread does the screwing and the female thread gets screwed. That, in itself, is definitely politically incorrect.

The new terminology is “outside thread” and “inside thread.” Actually, that is a better description of the thread. All the plumbing standards are going through a change to convert the terminology to inside and outside.

Another term that is strictly forbidden is “cock hole cover.” There are many terms used to now describe this component. Perhaps the best is faucet opening cover plate. Same thing, but not offensive.

Sillcock is still used in many standards and codes; however, that is changing to hose bibb. I made a mistake when speaking to a group and mentioning the installation of a sillcock. One contractor raised his hand and asked, “What’s a sillcock?”

That is when I realized, I was being politically incorrect. I apologized and responded that I meant to say hose bibb.

In a bidet, we used to have a device called a “douche.” Again, we stole a French word which means “shower.” The new term is called a “spray.”

Some of the other politically correct changes have been:

  • “Stalls” are now “compartments.” Horses use stalls, people use compartments;

  • “Telephone showers” are “hand-held showers.” Telephones no longer have cords;

  • “Black pipe” is “uncoated steel pipe” or simply “steel pipe;”

  • “Waterless urinal” is “non-water urinal” or “non-water supplied urinal;”

  • “Hot water heater” is “water heater.” You don’t heat hot water — it is really a “cold-water heater;”

  • “Garbage disposal” is a “food-waste grinder;” and

  • “Ball valve” has become “quarter-turn ball valve” and will soon become “quarter-turn, full-open valve” because “ball” just doesn’t sound good.

These are just a few of the terms that have changed in plumbing. Don’t let political correctness get you down. Think of it as politeness rather than political correctness. That sounds a lot better and, in fact, is what we are doing when we change our terms. We are being polite, not crude.

I hope all of you can enjoy the holiday season. I want to wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and Happy New Year. Or, in politically correct terms, “Happy Holidays.”


This article was originally titled “A change in terms” in the December 2016 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.