Ben Yagoda at Not One-Off Britishisms has an investigation into the word “wee”:

Someone I know has taken to using the word “wee” meaning to urinate, e.g., “Pretty soon I will need to to wee.” I recognized this as a British replacement for “pee,” along the same lines as “poo” substituting for American “poop,” and I thought it would make for a pretty easy post for this blog.

Well, similar to Bogart’s Rick in Casablanca, I misinformed myself. To be sure, “wee” in both the verb form and the noun (“He had a wee”) is indeed British, as well as Irish and Australian. The OED’s first citation for the verb is a 1934 letter from the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas: “Wee on the sun that he bloody well shines not.” The first noun form is in Richard Clapperton’s 1968 book No News on Monday, with the line, “Wanda is downstairs having a wee.”

The problem was establishing that any American other than my one informant uses it. None of the citations in the OED or in Green’s Dictionary of Slang is American. Nor, as far as I can tell, has “wee” has ever been used to mean urinate in the New York Times.

He goes into more detail about his fruitless search, then continues:

But that still left me with no other American instances of “wee.” Desperate, I turned to Facebook and asked my friends if they had ever encountered it. I got more than a few negative responses, but also some positive ones […] And the distinguished novelist Richard Bausch wrote:

Bobby and I were five or six and our step grandfather Dick Underwood came by in a shiny new Packard convertible, and took us for a ride. We were riding past an army post—Korean War still going on across the world (I remember wondering why we couldn’t hear it). Dick Underwood looked over at us and said, “I’ve gotta wee.” Bobby and I had never heard an adult say anything like that. We laughed like hell, and we never forgot it.

And they say Facebook is a waste of time.

I myself don’t think I’ve ever heard an American use the word.

Peter from Oz has this to say in the comment section:

In Australia we used “poop” as a noun for many years. However, Poop was always pronounced to rhyme with “book” not with “loop”.

In the 90s the old Australian use of poop began to fade away.

In the last few years I’ve noticed people born in the 90s or later using “poop”as verb as well as a noun with the American pronunciation. When I challenged on young woman about her pronunciation of the word, she said she’d heard it in US TV shows. SHe didn’t know about the old Australian pronunciation.

The OED does not have that Australian pronunciation in its entry (revised 2006) and my Australian Oxford Paperback Dictionary does not include the word in this sense, so I feel it is a valuable service to record it here.


  1. Trond Engen says

    128 Norwegians have the surname Wee.

  2. In the NE US, I have heard “weewee” in a parent-small child context (“do you need to…”), but not for years. Since the 80’s I would guess.

    (Thinks: possibly pets? No, I’m pretty sure it was nearly exclusively “piddle” for pets needing to go out.)

  3. Charles Perry says

    “Weewee” has been nursery talk at least since the Fifties. I remember giggles when one of the little pigs in the toe-counting game goes “wee wee wee” all the way home.

  4. David Fried says

    Yes! I am 73 and grew up in in lower-middle class (Jewish) NYC and environs. “Do you have to make a weeweee” or “go weewee” was more common than “peepee.” I never heard “pee” and “poop” as a verb until I was an adult, and when I first heard them from an adult’s mouth, I thought they were both improper and childish. When I was a child, grown-ups “went to the bathroom,” and that was as specific as they got.

    For that matter, we didn’t say “poop” as children, but “doody.” “Do you have to make a doody?” “I made doody in my pants.” It was many years before I realized that this must have originated as “duty,” pronounced “doody” in a NYC mouth. At five or so, I was baffled by the children’s show “Howdy Doody,” never having heard anyone say “howdy doody,” or, for that matter, “Howdy” or “How do you do,” which would have seemed ridiculously affected.

    I should say that the older generation, when I was growing up, although not particularly cultured or well-educated, were pretty prim in all their speech and even jokes, and not just in front of the children (I did [plenty of eavesdropping.)

  5. To infant me, “wee” was the cool older kids’ clipping of the original “wee-wee”.

  6. “Wee-wee” strikes me both as common in the US, at least East Coast, and also very childish. Which is perhaps why “have a wee” has never caught on, even with the type of American who says “gobsmacked.” “Wee-wee” is of course also a synonym for “penis” in toddler talk.

    I have never understood “doody” in the sense of “shit” to be a childish version of “duty”, although I suppose that’s plausible. In the South the word “dookie” is also popular, at least my college friends from North Carolina and South Ohio all seemed familiar with that term.

  7. Kate Bunting says

    ‘Wee-wee’ was the ‘nursery’ term from my early childhood (1950s). I think of ‘pee’ as more of a slang term, a euphemism for ‘piss’.

  8. @ES: I knew someone who used widdle for her dachshund, which struck me as having the same (childish, cutesy) relationship to piddle as wee-wee has to pee-pee. (I don’t think I’ve ever heard wiss though.)

    If I wanted to sound affectedly, eruditely trashy, I would used the British slash.

  9. Green Day had an album, Dookie. They are all from Northern California. Oddly the word is not in DARE. In Green’s Dictionary its earliest appearance is 1965, and it seems to have started in Black English. Like doody, I imagine it ultimately came from the verb do.

  10. “Wee-wee” strikes me both as common in the US, at least East Coast, and also very childish.

    I should have made it clear that Yagoda knows all about the reduplicated form, which is of course common in the US, and was interested solely in the monosyllabic “wee,” whose existence on these shores is marginal but apparently not zero.

  11. “Poop” with the book vowel is sparking something in the back of my head (I am a 54 year old New Zealander). I think I remember it as a noun eg “dog poop” rather than a verb. Speaking of which, now that I think about it, when addressing children and dogs isn’t it odd we often use “make” or “do” with the noun ie “can you make a wee/poo”, or “do”, “he did a poo in the toilet.”

  12. I recall from the 1970’s an April-First-type “article” printed in a respected medical journal which pointed out the lack of proper anatomical terms for the individual toes. The names proposed were something like porcellus agorans, porcellus domus, porcellus carnivorum, porcellus nilvorum, and porcellus micturans (the last being tangential to this thread). I am sorry that I cannot reconstruct the cleverness of the pedantically correct Latin original, and several minutes with DDG failed to find a citation.

  13. David Eddyshaw says
  14. Well found, and clever names!

  15. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I vaguely thought ‘wee’ was American (America being the place where anything I don’t say myself must be said). But of course ‘wee’ in Scotland is something else, which might put us off using it in the other sense.

  16. David Fried says

    @Vanya: In much of the US, including NYC, “doody” and “duty” are homophonous, so the first is not a mispronunciation of the second. I imagined that “do your duty” was somewhere, at some time, a euphemism for go to stool, but have no citation. If this is not the origin, does anyone have a theory?.

  17. I imagine “doody” comes from the euphemistically abstract “do”; cf. “dog do”.

  18. Keith Ivey says

    Sadly no micturans in the NEJM letter.

  19. David Marjanović says

    I knew someone who used widdle for her dachshund, which struck me as having the same (childish, cutesy) relationship to piddle as wee-wee has to pee-pee. (I don’t think I’ve ever heard wiss though.)

    In my German dialect I’ve encountered both /pɪʃl̩n/ and /vɪʃl̩n/. They’re both rare, though. (…And so is their short /ʃ/.)

    I imagine “doody” comes from the euphemistically abstract “do”; cf. “dog do”.

    It didn’t occur to me this might have anything to do with the verb – I’ve only seen it spelled doo, and there’s doo-doo parallel to poo-poo.

  20. danny kaye’s classic prattle

    – what did the duke do?
    – pardon?
    – the duke. what did the duke do?
    – the duke do?
    – and what about the doge?
    – o, the doge!
    – what did the doge do?
    – the doge do?
    – yes, the doge do!
    – well, the doge did what a doge does, when the doge does his duty to the duke, that is.

    is, i think, mostly based on this “doo”/”dookie”/”doody”/”duty” set of americanisms, though it skirts around the scatology enough to get cleanly past the MPAA. (it might also be one of the earlier appearances of the dog/e in popular culture, since “dog do” is a fairly common fixed phrase even among people who wouldn’t use anything else from the set)

  21. I agree that doody almost certainly comes from doo.

    Regarding the pronunciation: In the movie The Wrestler, the main character (Randy the Ram, a washed-up Hulk-Hogan-esque 1980s face, played by Mickey Rourke; the film is notable for its extensive cast of real professional wrestlers as background characters, all but one of them using their real-life gimmicks) likes to play the NES game about himself with the neighbor kids in the trailer park where he lives. At one point, the boy he is the closest to asks why they don’t get a more up-to-date video game, like “Call of Duty,” which Randy initially mishears as “Call of Doody.”

  22. J.W. Brewer says

    May I inquire of Jen in Edinburgh her reaction to the statement (from wiktionary) “Hence a dookie in Scots is, jocularly, someone who ducks or dunks people in water when baptising them.”

    I wonder speculatively if there’s any connection between the fecal sense of “dookie” and the fecal sense of “deuce” (esp. in the NAmEng stock phrase “to drop a deuce”), which itself pretty obviously derives from the euphemism “number two.”

  23. Dookie is a town in Victoria, Australia.


  24. David Marjanović : “In my German dialect I’ve encountered both /pɪʃl̩n/ and /vɪʃl̩n/. They’re both rare, though. (…And so is their short /ʃ/.)”

    In Bulgarian пиш, пишкам is normal toddler-speak for pee.

  25. Nat Shockley says

    (I don’t think I’ve ever heard wiss though.)

    I had a vague recollection that wiss exists in Australian English, and sure enough:

  26. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word, but it’s perfectly plausible. As far as I know I was baptised by the much more genteel finger-wetting method, but if the baby’s dooked, they’re dooked!

  27. J.W. Brewer says

    @Jen I had momentarily forgotten about the sect named by wikipedia as the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schwarzenau_Brethren, who like many other small-and-controversial German religious groups sought refuge in colonial Pennsylvania, where they became known variously as the Tunkers, Dunkers, or Dunkards: to “dunk/tunk” in Pennsylvania-Dutch-influenced English being more or less equivalent to the Scots to “dook.”

    “Dunk” has escaped from Pennsylvanian into general AmEng as an unremarkable verb for (wiktionary’s sense 1) “to submerge briefly in a liquid,” but for most AmEng speakers would be the wrong register to describe a baptism unless one were being intentionally jocular – in actual Pennsylvania Dutch I’m guessing it’s not necessarily the wrong register, though.

  28. I had a vague recollection that wiss exists in Australian English

    “whiz” seems to be the American equivalent.


  29. The Macquary Dictionary only gives the “book” pronunciation, and only references the noun, not the verb.

    The Dictionary also has two other words, spelled the same, but rhyming with “loop” – they are (1) part of a ship & (2) to tire.

    In my experience, the word has always rhymed with “loop”, but I’m told that the Australuan pronunciation was usually with the short vowel until about the 1980s/1990s.

  30. Thanks, that’s useful information!

  31. I once got in trouble with my mother for repeating a not-quite-profane variant from the film Snow Day (2000): “I gotta wizz!” I was upset at the time, but I sympathize more with her position now that I can recognize that (probably) wizz is to piss as wee is to pee.

  32. American, Ulster descent. If someone told me they were going downstairs to have a wee, I’d say, “A wee what?”

  33. And surely every Firesign Theatre fan remembers Bear Whiz Beer.

  34. As my Daddy said, “Son, it’s in the water.”

  35. I once got in trouble with my mother for repeating a not-quite-profane variant

    That reminds me of a car trip I took with my family when I was probably fourteen. I was reading Cyril Kornbluth’s great story “The Marching Morons” and read its ad catchphrases out loud, laughing helplessly: “Would you buy it for a quarter?” and “Take it and stick it!” When I repeated the latter, my dad said quite sharply not to say that. Completely confused, I said “Why not?” and he said “You know why!” It took me several years to figure it out. Those were innocent times.

  36. Care to explain for us non-native and younger ones? I’ve read The Marching Morons but I imagine a lot of it went over my head.

    According to James Nicoll, Cyril Kornbluth was in print for so long after his untimely demise due to his association with Frederic Pohl, specifically The Space Merchants, which I think was more understandable to early twenties me.

  37. “Stick it” implies “…up your ass.”

  38. I remember that, when I was six, my mother recounted a joke she had just heard about mental patients taken on a trip to a sports event. The punchline was that, when the peanut vendor cried “peanuts”, all the nuts got up and peed. My siblings and I did not get the joke; it had to be explained that “pee” was another word for “wee”.

  39. “Peanuts”? Aren’t those something that Americans eat?

  40. @V: Pohl definitely kept Kornbluth’s work in print and in the minds of fans for a long time. Personally, my favorite of their several cowritten novels is Wolfsbane.

  41. David Marjanović says

    the Scots to “dook.”

    Must be a cognate of German tauchen “dive”; eintauchen can be transitive, “slowly put something into a liquid”.

  42. I would have assumed that “going for a wee” or even a “wizz” was fairly common here in Canada. A “wee wee” would refer, in a more boyish sense, to that which is used for making said deposit.

  43. The NEJM letter to the editor is here:


    although there’s not much more to it than what was in the summary already linked. It was not an April 1 publication — I suppose those in the medical field need their humor rising at other times.

    Indeed, it was published on Feb 14 — was the editor responsible for choosing to print that letter specifically on that date perhaps signaling a secret affection for feet?

    The full letters page is also available at the hub of sighs, and the bibliotheque of the beginning.

  44. J.W. Brewer says

    I chanced to listen earlier today to Jay Ferguson’s 1976 cover version of “Medicated Goo,” originally recorded in 1968 by Traffic. In light of this thread, probably, this made me speculate idly about the differences if any between “goo” and “goop” – whether subtle nuances in respective semantic scope or just differences in which English speakers use which in which contexts. Whatever those differences are, I am skeptical that they will match up well with any such differences between “poo” and “poop,” although it would be cool if they did match up. One obvious discrepency is that per the google n-gram viewer, “goo” is more common than “goop” but “poop” is more common than “poo.” Although the existence of other unrelated senses of “poop” (the nautical, for example) may be contaminating those results.

  45. John Cowan says

    There’s a poem in trochaic tetrameter quatrains about dogs and excrement, but I remember only two of the lines, both quatrain-enders: “every dog must have his do” and “filled with dogs that can and do”. Not on line, seemingly.

  46. Stu Clayton says

    A standard disparaging term for a dog in German is Köter. Etymologically that’s “pooper”.

    I learned this etymology only a few years ago. It’s very plausible when you think about it, but who thinks about such a thing ? I’ve laid it on a few Germans who were then just as surprised as I was.

  47. Trond Engen says

    Norw. kjøter means “mongrel dog””. It’s obviously borrowed from German.

  48. @Stu Clayton. “A standard disparaging term….”

    Does each of these entries in the Grimms’ Deutsches Wörterbuch (https://woerterbuchnetz.de/?sigle=DWB) express your suggested etymology, support it, speak against it, or is irrelevant to it?

      KOTERN, bei Fischart im ausspruch des esels, in dessen urtheil über den gesang der nachtigall, der er vorwirft, wie sie
    koterts und kauets in der käln,
    das man kein silb ir nach kan zehln.
    dichtungen 3, 66 Kurz,
    der esel thut als hätte er einen meistersinger zu beurtheilen; kotern wird nichts sein als kodern, screare, das als scheltendes kraftwort für die gurgelnden töne des vogels trefflich passt, wie es von gewissem reden galt (sp. 1573).

      /Bd. 11, Sp. 1890/ KÖTERN, ein nd. wort, aus und ein oder herum laufen wie köter, hunde (Richey, brem. wb., Danneil, bei letzterm auch von liederlichen dirnen, s. unter  1DWb  köter 6). daher bei H. Heine:
    hund mit hündischen gedanken
    kötert er die ganze woche.
    romanzero 206.

  49. Trond Engen says

    Me: Norw. kjøter means “mongrel dog””. It’s obviously borrowed from German.

    Something came up and I posted just this. The reason for ‘obviously’ is that agent nouns in tone 1 are usually borrowed and, if so, usually from German, and that there are no candidates for internal derivation.

    (Well, there’s the the near-obsolete verb kyte “complaint, scold; brag”, but the vowels don’t work.)

    (Well, well. I just discovered the rare verb kjøt(t)e “gather flesh, gain weight, fatten (intr.)” < kjøt(t) “flesh”, but *kjøter “glutton” would be tone 1)

  50. Lars Mathiesen says

    Danish has køter with stød, Older Modern Danish had kyttre. ODS wants to derive from MLG koter = ‘cottager’, that is, farm dog as opposed to hunting dog.

  51. David Marjanović says

    de.wikt offers both etymologies and doesn’t decide. The DWDS doesn’t mention either (except for “influence thinkable” from “cottage”) and offers a more plausible one instead. That would, BTW, make it a root cognate of Kauz, a term for various little owls including the, uh, little owl (Athene noctua) – and of Icelandic kýta “quarrel”, which must be the same as the Danish. The vowels do work if it’s just another ablaut grade.

    There is a verb koten “defecate”, but it lacks umlaut, and given its register and its restriction to rather zoological contexts it’s probably a rather recent coinage.

  52. Trond Engen says

    Lars M.:Danish has køter with stød, Older Modern Danish had kyttre. ODS wants to derive from MLG koter = ‘cottager’, that is, farm dog as opposed to hunting dog.

    I can’t believe that without the umlaut. And how is kyttre supposed to fit in?

    David M.: a more plausible one

    I like that, and I shouldn’t have dismissed kyte so readily. Ger. Kauz and ON kýta (with its assorted descendant senses) might go back to Gmc. *ku:t- “howl” or some such (an onomatopoetic coinage in Germanic?). But I don’t think you can centralize long-vowel kýta to kjøter without special pleading, and, anyway, the tone (and the stød) is wrong for a native agent noun, so the noun still looks like a German borrowing in Scandinavian.

    But what should do with that weird OMD kyttre?

  53. Stu Clayton says

    offers a more plausible one instead

    Well, I did make the claim cautiously. It’s a pleasant folk etymology at least, although unfair to dogs.

  54. Stu Clayton says

    Kleinkötter, Kotsasse. Kot = Kote = Kate. Seems that, in the past, Köter could mean a “farm dog” or “poor man’s mongrel”. A hovel hound.

    German data protection laws prevent identification of fly-tipping poopers.

  55. Trond Engen says

    That’s the idea of the Kotter etymology. The existence of an umlauted Kötter makes it somewhat more plausible, but getting from /køt–/ to /kø:t-/ is still an issue.

  56. David Marjanović says

    “Kampf den Falschkackern” is awesome.

    (Falschparker: “person who parks their car where they’re not allowed to”. Kampf den sounds like agitprop.)

  57. I, too, was taught to say “wee-wee” back in the 1960s. (Though I didn’t know until today that it’s hyphenated!)

  58. The surname of Israeli former general and current politician Gadi Eisenkot is not German ‘iron turd’. It’s a folk-Ashkenazi reworking of Azankot, supposedly from a Berber word meaning ‘deer’, and the name of a Moroccan tribe which offered protection to the Jews in its territory. Perhaps Lameen could clarify the details.

  59. David Eddyshaw says

    Pity. “Iron Turd” definitely has a certain something as a name.

  60. But of course you did…

  61. Stu Clayton says

    “Iron Turd” definitely has a certain something as a name.

    Folk etymologies make up in entertainment value for what they lack in scientificalicity.

    Think about it desert-island-discs-wise: as the one book you are granted, would you rather have Basic Linear Algebra, or Pseudodoxia Epidemica ?

  62. David Marjanović says

    Not “turd”, though; the singulative of “crap” isn’t lexicalized in German. Kot is a printable, even literary term and also applies to medieval street dirt which also contained ordinary mud and, uh, everything else.

    No known or suspected relation to Kotlas, a place with Permian body fossils but no coprolites AFAIK.

  63. the singulative of “crap” isn’t lexicalized in German
    Not in the standard, but Northern German has Köttel (Kötel as per Duden, but I only ever have heard it with a short vowel).

  64. David Marjanović says

    Oh, yes, I’ve encountered that (in reading) as a more or less specialized term for goat droppings… and, yes, with tt, which is certainly interesting.

  65. Andrew Dunbar says

    As a 56-year-old Aussie who grew up in Melbourne, I have to admit to being a bit saddened to hear that short-oo-poop is dying out, or has already died out.

    I don’t think I heard the long-oo-poop until the mid ’80s in American sitcoms, whiz maybe a tad later.

    Variants I can recall:

    pee, pee-pee, nouns and verbs
    piss – noun and verb
    poo, poos – long oo, noun and verb
    poop – short oo, noun and verb
    poopy – short oo, adjective
    wee, wees, wee-wee, wee-wees – nouns and verbs
    wiss – noun and verb

    It feels like longer since I’ve heard “wiss” than short-oo “poop” but I hadn’t realized the latter was vanishing. Other words I have very definitely noticed. “Bum” has been displaced by “butt” and “yuck” has been displaced by “gross”, even by people older than me, unlike most newer Americanisms that are only used by people in generations younger than mine.

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