‘Guarding the waters’, or ‘Look out below!’


This is one word I truly hope that I never hear, except maybe on a movie screen.  Why is that, you may ask.  Well, several reasons.  One is that, like all imperatives and shouts of caution, such as ‘Heads’ when working in a theater, the human tenancy is to look up.  It takes a few blunders to learn what is being said and the correct action to take. (By the way, if you are ever backstage or onstage at a theater, and someone shouts ‘Heads,’ do NOT look up – just move in any direction – something, probably large and heavy, is coming your way. Just saying.)

Oh, so back to ‘Gardyloo.’  First, let me assure you this is an obsolete term.  Also, it is native to Scotland, primarily confined to Edinburgh, from what I can find out.  Second, the reason that the word existed at all is generally non-existent nowadays.

My research tells me that the word most likely originated from a French phrase.  That makes sense, as Edinburgh has a history of having French connections.  Mary, Queen of Scots, was also the queen of France (prior to her husband’s untimely demise at an early age.)  French manners, fashions, and customs were common in the Scottish court .  As a matter of fact, the ‘Auld Alliance”

played a significant role in the relations between Scotland, France and England from its beginning in 1295 until the 1560 Treaty of Edinburgh. The alliance was renewed by all the French andScottish monarchs of that period except for Louis XI.[1] By the late 14th century, the renewal occurred regardless of whether either kingdom was involved in a conflict with England.[2]  


The French phrase is presumed to be ‘garde à l’eau!.’ ‘Look out for the water.’  Water?  So what?  Well, this particular water was, to be nice, used water.  As in from chamber pots. As in had other items of perhaps more substance mixed in with it!

The phrase “Gardyloo’ was ‘used in Edinburgh as a warning cry when it was customary to throw slops from the windows into the streets.” Merriam-Webster.com  You see, there were no sewers, water pipes, or indoor plumbing.  So waste had to be gotten rid of somehow, so… out the window.  Usually the back one, but not always.

So, if you are walking down the Royal Mile in Old City Edinburgh, and someone shouts ‘Gardyloo’ move under an overhang, THEN look around to find out how you got into the middle of a historical re-enactment!

#wordy Wednesday



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