I recently discovered you could subscribe to Jonathon Green’s Substack Mister Slang; I did so forthwith and have not regretted it. The latest post, K is For…, features “the many terms for lavatory (or as they say in those areas of society unblessed by the late Mitford Sisters, the toilet) in the slang vocabulary,” beginning with the one I’ve used for my post title:

As befits so vital an amenity, the khazi is but one of a number of allied spellings: carsey, carsi, cawsy, karzi, karzie, karzy, kazi and kharzi, which show, among other things, yet another example of what happens when one attempts to set down on paper that which usually appears but between the lips. But if the adventures of Sir Sydney, Private Widdle, Bungdit In, Major Shorthouse and of course the Khazi himself are not canonical, what, quite frankly is life worth? so for our purposes, khazi it is.

Based on Italian casa, a house, it arrived via Polari, the language of the stage (and latterly the camper end of homosexuality) in the mid-19th century. It is one of a number of available definitions: others include a brothel, a thieves’ den, a pub and simply a house. And the khazi, figuratively, can describe any messy or otherwise unappealing place. Casa is also the root of the earlier (from the 17th century) case, which again offers us a selection of sheltering roofs: a house, a shop or warehouse, a brothel (or case-house, owned by a case-keeper and wherein works the case-fro or case-vrow – from German frau) a ‘thieves; kitchen’, and, of course, a lavatory. To crack a case is to break into a house (quite the opposite of Plod’s variation) while to go case or case-o (or have a case) with are to live with someone, or, in an era that pre-dated the modern call-girl, to work as a genteel prostitute, from a flat, rather than walking the streets.

He goes on to discuss ajax and related terms like jakes, bog or boghouse, crap and craphouse, dunny, loo, and other terms; it’s all good reading. I was pleased to see a nicely filled out OED entry (revised 2016):

slang (chiefly British).

1. A house. Occasionally: spec. (a) a brothel; (b) a public house. Now rare.
1846 The former was the multibona casey for the swell donnas.
‘Lord Chief Baron’, Swell’s Night Guide (new edition) 33

2.a. A toilet, a lavatory.
1932 Everyone commenting unfavourably on the smell—poufy, like a cahsy, mucking drain.
G. S. Moncrieff, Café Bar xx. 236

2.b. A place regarded as unpleasant or in poor condition.
1934 Get out o’ Southend just as soon as you can. Of all the bloomin’ carsies I’ve ever struck this ‘ere takes some beating.
P. Allingham, Cheapjack iv. 37

And yes, the OED agrees it’s from Italian casa, “probably originally in Polari slang.”


  1. That’s fascinating. I remember khazi from my childhood and had always imagined it was British army slang acquired from Arabic or Urdu or Malaysian or whatever.

    Then again, I may have learned khazi from Round the Horne, which prominently featured Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick doing their ‘Sandy and Julian’ routines with numerous polari terms thrown in. Not that I knew anything about that either, at the time.

  2. The various spellings do suggest variation between intervocalic /s/ and /z/ in the word, and as it turns out in Italian /kaza/ is a typically Northern and /kasa/ a typically Central + Southern pronunciation of the word. I am a little curious, though: how certain are we of the specifically ITALIAN origin of the word? I do know most Polari vocabulary items are Italian in origin, but I cannot help but note that the word in Catalan has a /z/ and in Castilian a /s/, making it a little hard to determine in which Mediterranean ports the word was picked up by British sailors…

  3. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    It is one of a number of available definitions: others include a brothel, a thieves’ den, a pub and simply a house. And the khazi, figuratively, can describe any messy or otherwise unappealing place.

    This suggests a connection to Italian casino, which nowadays means almost always “any messy or otherwise unappealing place or situation,” though that has come from “brothel,” and earlier meanings (club, pavilion, etc) remain understood in context.

    Is it too folk-etymological to note that a mere truncation yields /cazi/?

  4. David Eddyshaw says

    The English have a hundred words for “lavatory.”

  5. @Giacomo Ponzetto: Perhaps what we are dealing with here, instead of a truncation, is a cross between two word forms (“Croisement de formes”, as we standardized modern Northern Gallo-Latin-speaking linguists are wont to call it…): “casa” (whether this word is ultimately Italian, Spanish or Catalan -or all three- in its etymology is immaterial here…) plus “casino” yielding */kasi/, /kazi/.

    @David Eddyshaw: Actually, since you are on this thread I would like to relay a question/suggestion made by a former pupil of mine, before she turned to evil (Well, she now works for and is an activist for a political party, actually, so…well, okay, yes, before she turned to evil): It involves the Latin origin of the Welsh word “plant”, which might suggest to some that the concept of “children” was alien to the Welsh before the days of Roman Britain.

    This student of mine reminded me of something I had taught her in historical linguistics class, back when she was doing a double major in Linguistics and Classics: Words designating trade items are frequently the most readily borrowed ones. Well, as it turns out, she also informed me that slaves were a major export of Roman Britain, and a common source of slaves (in the Classical world and others…) were -yes, this is grim- children sold by impoverished families for whom this was the only way to prevent the family from starving to death.

    So, the question/suggestion she had: Could this practice have been sufficiently widespread in Roman Britain at some point that the Latin word used by Roman slave merchants could thus have become, among British Celtic speakers, the default word to designate “children”?

    I said I would relay this, and I just did. Thoughts? Anyone?

  6. David Eddyshaw says

    The emperor Claudius is supposed to have remarked on the uselessness of British slaves. Perhaps it was a question of having oversaturated the market with mass production and poor quality control. The “made in Hong Kong” of its day …

    Actually plant “children” seems to be a northern thing, viz Welsh and (presumably) Cumbric; I don’t think it’s in Cornish or Breton. It did get borrowed into Irish, though.

  7. Why would the early Irish borrow plant from the Welsh, then?

    I would guess it just spread as a hypocoristic, like latter day (non-borrowed) kids. There are surely many more examples from elsewhere.

  8. Stu Clayton says

    “Chicks” is another hypocoristic.

    Over the last few years in one of the Turkish-Italian-other immigrant corners of Cologne, where I go for involtini, haircuts and garlic, it has became a fad among younger men to address each other as Bruder when speaking German. No first name. I now don’t know the first names of most of the people around me there.

    My pitiable research into this matter suggests that this is a metastasis of the inescapable habibi between Turkish youf, as I hear when getting my hair cut.

  9. clann seems closer to other Latin planta senses; is it certain it came through that Welsh form or can it mean more than ‘children’?

    English plant evidently had a brief period of this, too. Kersey added to his 1706 edition of Phillips’s The New World of English Words,

    Plant, an Herb, a young Tree to ſet; figuratively a young Man or Maid.

    Compare 1700 or Kersey’s earlier New English Dictioonary, which lacks the second half of that definition.

  10. ktschwarz says

    That sense of plant wasn’t quite dead yet in 1907 in the OED’s judgment; they had it as “fig. Anything planted or springing up; a scion, offshoot, nurseling; a young person; a novice. Now rare,” with the quotation from Phillips, and a last citation from 1812:

    1812 Sporting Mag. XXXIX. 188 A plant from Bristol, a youth of tremendous power.

    It was marked obsolete in the 2006 revision, with no later examples.

  11. David Marjanović says

    “Family tree” > “offspring” ( > clann) > “children”, notably plural ( < plant).

    Tree metaphors are elsewhere in genealogy, like the aforementioned scion.

  12. J.W. Brewer says

    “That our sons may grow up as the young plants : and that our daughters may be as the polished corners of the temple.” Ps. cxviv (tr. Coverdale)

  13. Stu Clayton says

    that our daughters may be as the polished corners of the temple

    Easy on the eye, in virtue unswayable.

  14. Tree metaphors … in genealogy

    For this connection, the OED references stirp(s). The ‘family’ sense was solid in Cicero’s Latin. For English,

    The word became obsolete in the 17th cent., and reappears (in affected literary use) about the middle of the 19th cent.

    shown with quotations from Bacon’s New Atlantis (published at the end of Sylva Sylvarum) and then from one of Lowell’s poems full of trees, such as are only remembered nowadays on Arbor Day, or conceivably in a clever term paper on James Russell, Amy, and Robert. It then seems to have gotten picked up by Galton for behavioral genetics, and so eugenics, and that association was presumably the end of it.

  15. J.W. Brewer says

    I don’t think I’ve come across freestanding “stirp,” but the fixed Latinate phrase “per stirpes” remains current and comprehensible in the lawyer-jargon register of AmEng, including among those (a majority in these decadent times …) who have never taken a Latin class.

  16. Also extirpate. As Mrs. Malaprop says, “Now don’t attempt to extirpate yourself from the matter; you know I have proof controvertible of it.”

  17. “seeds” for ‘children’ is currently quite alive in some u.s. english pockets – i think of it (don’t know whether accurately or not) as spreading out from cultural-political hiphop lyrics in a way that makes me suspect it originated with the Five Percenters (like much of the linguistic innovation that moves from the hiphop world to broader use). it could also be from christian usage, like octavia butler’s “earthseed” and (i believe) the liberation slogan “they tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds” (which entered u.s. usage through the families of the 43 ayotzinapa desaparecidos, but has either precedents or origins in greece).

    it’s associated for me with “kids” for ‘cum’, but i think mostly because i started running into them more often in similar contexts at around the same time.

  18. Actually plant “children” seems to be a northern thing, viz Welsh and (presumably) Cumbric; I don’t think it’s in Cornish or Breton.


    A Modern Breton planten ‘belle jeune fille’ (also as used as a name), evidently originally a singulative of plant ‘plants, jeunes arbres’, is noted by Loth (1884), p. 204–205 here for one Breton variety (bas-vannetais, Loth’s mother tongue?). An inheritance in this particular meaning, or a later parallel semantic development? Also note plant ‘pépée’ offered here, apparently for Ergué-Gabéric (Finistère). I haven’t looked into the genesis of this particular online dictionary. As for Old Breton plant in the sense of ‘children’ in Breton, the glosses in that particular section of the manuscript Oxoniensis prior that Loth refers to were judged to be Old Welsh and not Old Breton in a subsequent assessment of the manuscript, if I am not mistaken. But I have not looked into the question in depth.

  19. My pitiable research into this matter suggests that this is a metastasis of the inescapable habibi between Turkish youf

    Rather, from the ubiquitous use of colloquial Arabic اخوي akhui ‘my brother’ and Turkish kardeşim ‘my brother’ and birader ‘brother’ (the latter from Persian) among males to address other males of approximately the same age with a respectful or neutral tone, in Arabic and Turkish, respectively.

  20. Stu Clayton says

    I mean “inescapable” in the corner of Cologne referred to, where Turkish and Arabic(s) are ubiquitous. I was not assuming or implying that the use of habibi here is a feature of Turkish-all-over-the-world. I ask my Turkish barber Soner about these things while getting my pate coiffed.

    Nowadays young Turks often switch to German when an unknown German is within hearing distance, I guess so as not to offend by seeming “non-assimilated”. They didn’t do that much in the past, say over 20 years ago. They don’t always switch in my presence in the barbershop, I suppose because they know me as one who doesn’t care whether they’re “assimilated”. I’m just an Onkel.

  21. At the time I left Israel in 1975 after living there for a few years, the custom was for every male to say habibi, if they said anything, to another male. Many years later, when watching a couple of Israeli series in Netflix, and some videos in X, I found out that habibi had been completely replaced by a ubiquitous אחי, ahi, in all contexts, all the time, to any male within spitting distance. I interpreted this as an attempt at calquing American “bro”. Was I wrong?

  22. David Marjanović says

    American “bro”

    And/or Russian братан?

    (…That’s itself an interesting word; how did the -ан happen?)

  23. The expression אחי akhi (with penultimate accent) is used by many, and despised by many, not unlike bro, though the class significance is different. akhi is lower class (or aims to project such), bro is middle class.

    I checked Ruvik Rosenthal’s site for some insights. He dated akhi to sometime in the 1980s, based on its first appearance in slang dictionaries. A reader wrote him later, saying that the expression was used in the Golani brigade when he served there in 1981, but was unknown elsewhere. Within the brigade, it “mostly signified the solidarity of the enlisted soldiers of Mizrahi origin, who constituted most of the riflemen in those days.”

    That seems a very plausible origin, given the way Israeli slang works, or worked back then. I think it was probably inspired by Arabic (Iraqi or Maghrebi), not by English, which at the time was not as widely understood and was not a major source of calques; nor was bro very common in AmE back then.

    Some Actual Kids Today in Israel have taken to using “bro” as is, uncalqued, according to an article I read a few months ago. These seem to be the online gaming sort.

  24. @Y Thanks, that confirms my suspicion that this usage emerged after I had already left for good.

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