Let’s say you go to Southcenter Mall in Seattle with a group of friends during the weekend, eating lunch at the food court. You have been very hungry and thirsty, so you eat a lot of fast seafood and drink a lot of soda, refilling your cup after you finish your drink, taking advantage of the food place’s free refill privilege.
As you walk around the mall window shopping with your friends or going into stores and browsing around, you feel rising pressure in your bowels and bladder. The pressure intensifies as you peruse the anime DVDs in an entertainment media store.
You can’t hold it anymore, feeling as if you are going to erupt. You say to your friends, “I need to go to the bathroom.”
They all say go ahead, but one of your friends looks at you with a furrowed brow and crossed arms. You ask this person what is the matter.
“No, it’s not ‘I need to go to the bathroom.’ It’s ‘I need to go to the restroom.’ There are no bathtubs in public restrooms. You don’t bathe in a public restroom. Therefore, you can’t call it a ‘bathroom.’”
You and your friends look at this person strangely, telling him it is just an expression. However, as annoying as a person like this may be, this person is right. There are no baths in public restrooms. Also, “I need to go to the bathroom” has become a euphemistic expression for “I need to pee” or “I need to poop.” In this case, rather than being a prepositional phrase, “to the bathroom” is more like an extension of the infinitive “to go,” as if it were a verb.
I am not “word Nazi.” I’m far from it. “Pee” and “poop” are funny-sounding words. Even “urinate” and “defecate” are humorous. On road trips, we may say, “I need to go to the bathroom,” when were surround by miles and miles of grassland and flatulence-emitting cows. We say that in hopes of coming across an unsanitary gas station, even when we know there’s no bathtub in its restroom, only flies hovering over the toilet bowl seat.
I understand that “I need to go to the bathroom” may be the only suitable expression to use in certain situations. For example, what about those half-bathrooms in houses that have a toilets and sinks but no bathtubs or showers? Can they be called restrooms? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a “rest room” as “a room or suite or rooms that includes sinks and toilets.” According to that definition, those “half bathrooms” can be called “restrooms” since there is no mention of a bathtub in the definition.
Like I had said, I am not a word Nazi. But at the same time, I like to try to avoid unnecessary euphemistic language. So, let’s say you are having dinner at someone’s house and it is quite formal. After the main course, dessert is now being served, but you feel an uncomfortable pressure in your bladder. You don’t want to say “I need to pee” or “I need to urinate” because that would sound disgusting at a formal, or even a semi-formal dinner. “I need to go to the bathroom” sounds just as crude. Plus, you don’t know if the room your host will send you to has a bathtub. You are the neurotic type, and want to be precise in your language. The best expression to use is: “I need to use the restroom.” You know the room you’ll be sent to will have at least a toilet and sink. Even if the room does end up having a bathtub, it’s still correct since bathrooms have toilets and sinks.
So next time, when you’re at a public place or someone else’s house, it’s best to say “I need to use the restroom.”