This is a slang term for toilet, and it was supposedly derived from the practice of the French yelling out the warning, “Gardez l’eau!” (pronounced gardy loo – meaning “mind the water”), before emptying the chamber pot from an upper level onto the street below. Following the devastation of the Bubonic Plague, some areas of Europe attempted to improve sanitation by outlawing the practice of discarding waste on public streets. When privacy slowly emerged as an issue, sanitation improved.
During the Middle Ages, flush toilets and indoor plumbing did not exist. There were several ways in which people ‘did their business’. A popular way was using the garderobe, which means ‘to guard the robes’. This was a private room, a bed-chamber area that was also referred to as a privy. It got this name because people kept their clothes in them, and they believed that the foul odor in these chambers repelled moths, which would otherwise eat the fabric. It is from ‘garderobe’ that the modern word ‘wardrobe’ is derived. Basically, these were seats (either made of stone or wood) attached to a shaft leading to a pit. These toilets were installed in castles and manor houses, so they were available only to the rich and powerful.
Less privileged people had to settle for more communal facilities, such as cesspits, which was simply a hole in the ground similar to an outhouse. Excrement would stay stagnant in the hole, so these cesspits needed to be emptied every once in a while, as excrement sank to the bottom and liquids flowed out between the spaces in the brick lining. In 1183, Frederick I Barbarossa (1122–1190) Holy Roman Emperor and Duke of Swabia held a Diet (legislative assembly) in the Great Hall of Germany’s Erfurt Castle, when suddenly the floor of the main hall collapsed, and the Emperor his knights and many of the dinner guests fell thirty-nine feet into the cesspool below and drowned. Emperor Frederick pulled through as he was able to grab on to the iron grates of a window, whereat he hung by the hands till he was rescued, but it was a while before any of his guests accepted another dinner invitation at the castle.
Written for Word of the Day Challenge Prompt – Gardyloo.