in Wacky Word Wednesday

Wednesday has come upon us once again, friends and language geeks, which means it’s time for Wacky Word Wednesday, a weekly celebration of the wackiest and most interesting words from around the world! Today’s wacky word may initially seem like a bit of an odd choice, but a word is a word is a word… right? For your unusual reading pleasure, today’s word is: latrinalia.

The definition from

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markings made on the walls of restrooms; bathroom graffiti

quo botLatrinalia

This word is a neologism penned by a professor of folklore at Berkeley, Allen Dundes, in 1966. The etymology of latrinalia comes from combining the word latrine, which means toilet, and the suffix –alia, which indicates a valueless collection of something—at least that was Dundes’ intention.

In an interview, Mark Ferem, the author of Bathroom Graffiti, said that “Bathroom Graffiti is a common denominator; it celebrates what we have in common just as rituals do. It’s a cultural dynamic that binds us to everything human.” Oddly enough, the more we think about it… the more it kinda makes sense.

Taking a step back to consider graffiti in general, the basis of this art form has been around for centuries, evident in the various wall scribbles and inscriptions found in the archeological digs of Pompeii. Even back then, a quip found on a wall illustrates how commonplace graffiti was: “I’m amazed, O wall, that you have not fallen in ruins, you who support the tediousness of so many writers.”

As for modern graffiti, which is usually done with a Magic Marker or a can of spray paint, this art form gained serious momentum during the 1960s in New York City. The explosion of graffiti during this period has been associated with a teenager who went by the tag name Taki 183. He was deemed “king” by neighborhood followers and began a trend that transformed into what we now know as colorful metropolitan graffiti.

We’re not really sure when the transition occurred from outdoor graffiti to latrinalia, but the founder of Bathroom Graffiti Project identifies bathroom graffiti as “one of the few remaining outlets for free speech in today’s sanitized and controlled media world.” Quite a highbrow assessment for an art form that’s typically associated with adolescent shenanigans, but then again, the folks at world-renowned seem to agree. Just this October, they announced the winner of the TED prize, an award given to a recipient believed to have “One Wish to Change the World” worthy of the $100,000 prize. The 2011 winner goes by the name JR and identifies himself as a “photograffeur,” graffeur meaning “graffiti artist” in French.

Examples of latrinalia come in all types, whether (presumably) in the bathroom stalls in the Microsoft building:

  • To Flush, Press Handle. You Do Not Need to Hold Control, Alt, And Delete At The Same Time.

referencing an acclaimed play:

or illustrating poetic expression:

  • Haikus are easy
    But sometimes they don’t make sense

So that’s all we’ve got. Have you come across any interesting latrinalia lately?

If you’re interested in learning more wacky words, make sure to visit!

  1. Love any kind of art and really love the UK graffiti artist Banksy, he has a new exhibition you can check out at Banksy Prints, he combine new graffiti values with elements of the old masters – really interesting.

  2. Pilipo,

    That’s interesting. I’m the exact opposite — I love myself some clever latrinalia. Granted, most restroom scribblings aren’t worth a second glance, but you’ll occasionally come across something really clever, and that makes “your business” all the more enjoyable :) It does for me, at least.

    … I wouldn’t want to think of how much extra time I’ve spent in the restroom on account of reading graffiti in the stalls. Man, I need a life :)

    Also, I think we should coin our own verb: latrinalify. What do you think?

  3. Wow!! I cannot believe that a word has been invented for this.
    I am really against the latrinalia, and hate going to toilets which are full of it. I used to work in a restaurant in Paris in a touristic area and whenever we just got the toilets freshly painted. It has been “latrinalia-ed” (is there a verb for it?) right after… GRrrrr!

  4. Oh my gosh – I wish I had known this word when I used to work for a videogame company and we were pitching Sega’s Jet Set Radio, a game where you “tag” stuff

    Love these Wednesday posts…

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