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Posted by on Mar 28, 2011 in Language, This is Broken | 2 comments

What sex is your bathroom?

What’s wrong with this picture?

I’ll tell you what’s wrong: Somebody decided that labeling the washroom “women’s” or even “ladies’” didn’t sound impressive enough. Those words were too mundane for the local pool and gym, and so in an effort to sound more literate, that person decided that “female” was a better descriptor.*


First, the technical correction: Female refers to the sex of a living thing or the part of a living thing that produces eggs. Cows can be female. Pinecones can be female. Your reproductive organs can be female. This washroom cannot be female.

The washroom is for women. It is the “Women’s Washroom.” Simply “Women” or “Ladies” would have sufficed. The washroom part is implied. In fact, the plain triangle-dress icon would have been plenty.

But now the real issue: It’s not the sign. It’s a trend that I’ve noticed, of people using bigger and more complicated (or sometimes, just lesser known) words in an effort to sound smarter. They think they are sounding more educated, when, in fact, they are using words incorrectly or they’re taking a simple statement and making it twice as long as it needs to be.

Another example from the same building, on the door to the pool deck:

“All persons must remove footwear before entering the pool area”

Wow.   How about, “No shoes” or simply:

Good writers know that elegance is saying as much as you can in as few words as possible. Poets know it even better.  Good computer programmers know that elegance is writing a program using as few lines of code as possible. And good marketers know that elegance is sometimes saying nothing at all.

May the world catch on.



*The “Male Washroom” was labeled similarly. I just didn’t think it would look right to stand outside that door and take pictures.


  1. Now you make me want to add a photograph of a female pinecone and a female cow to the sign! Remember the Quality Dairy that was near Xan’s house at State? My brother and I used to call it “Accurate and Consistent Bovine Secretion Derivatives”. My brother rather delights in calling objects by their full names, Jimmy Johns is James Jonathan, he also likes to say “Televisions”, “Cellular Telephones”, and absolutely refused to text “l8r”, how r u, etc. He only types in full sentences with capital letters and punctuation. Mostly tongue in cheek humor, but while I don’t really want things over-labeled, I sometimes resent the refusal to really embrace speaking and writing as crafts that do require precision.

  2. when you live in Quebec, you realize just how much longer the French language can make most everything ….. whenever I have had to design brochures in both French and English, the French portion took almost twice as much space

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