Jake, Jake’s House, Jake’s



n. A toilet, loo, outhouse, shitter.

Everyone wants to talk about Harringdon and all that balderdash, about “Johns” and where they think this originated. I can tell you where. Well, partially.

Let’s spin time back a bit. Well, a large bit. For centuries, sewage and waste was indeed a problem. Humans found a way to cope, and as usual, it was a stupid way. They dumped their refuse into moving water, thinking it would be carried away! Yes. And then downriver, or back up onto the coast during high tide, only to besludge the shoreline during low. People would toss pots out windows, into gutters, and all that filth would just slowly slurp down whatever godforsaken hill, until it ended up in the laps of those who had to live on the bottom. And heaven forbid if you had to relieve yourself away from the pot. There were no public toilets! How could there be? We had the most basic of plumbing.

Enter the industrious human piss pot. 

You think I’m joking. Sadly no. There were men or women, carrying utilitarian buckets, some with leather sacks around them drawn with strings. Some had gloves, nosegays, and other helpful paraphernalia for assisting you through the process. They wore large cloaks, and for a farthing, you could settle in, concealed by their curtain, and let it go. For that farthing, you could walk away from your refuse and let the “jake” deal with it.

In those days, “Jake” was like “John” but had a uniquely derogatory bent to it. It was like saying “That jerk”. You could say it to someone’s face, because it had binary meaning as a simple name to give a stranger. It all depended on the tone of voice, and so a man with a bucket was a “Hullo, Jake, here’s a farthing” to his face. But to your mates, he was a “filthy jake”. A modern parallel might be “Bubba” or “Tom Dick and Harry” And yes, this carried through, even to the Victorian, when it was largely replaced with “Jack”.

Enter the “modern” era, and by that, I mean the Early Modern, the 1600′s, when public toilets were constructed on bridges over the river or bankside at crossings. The human toilets diminished, but they didn’t vanish entirely. However, the public pots were still commonly called “Jake’s house”.

Most of you know that London is a city on a river. To be truthful, it’s a city twixt rivers. Or tributaries, or waterways. Whatever you want to call them. Jake’s house was everywhere. A Frenchman wandering through London could get mighty confused, wondering who this Jaques person was, that he had so many houses. Which only added to the use of the word, because that was a time in which the English were not overly fond of the French.

So if your name is Jake…I do apologize to you, but whenever I hear the name…All I can think to do is toss you a penny and shit in a bucket.

Example: “Give me a moment to visit with Jake, would you?” or “I need to knock on Jake’s door.” 

So now, if you ever have the urge to call someone a “human toilet” or a “pile of shit” but you are in polite company, just call him “Jake” obsessively.

He might say “Uh, my name is Todd.”

And you can reply. “No, I think your name is Jake.”

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