Yesterday, at the health club, I saw another one ... Yellow CAUTION tape--on a urinal. By the way: I just checked the OED and discovered that the word urinal goes back to about 1300 (in one of its meanings--a glass vessel or phial for gathering urine); the current meaning, to 1851. I've pasted below the entire OED entry. Some lexicographic wag must have slipped the newest definition by the editorial board. Just look at it-- 5. A building, erection, or enclosure for accommodating persons when requiring to pass urine. No comment.
Anyway, there's nothing unusual about words near (usually above) urinals. I've read things and laughed at them since boyhood--when, of course, anything even vaguely smutty is fall-down funny. Here's the earliest one I remember: Look up ... [you do so--see other writing] ... You're pissing on your shoes. Clever stuff. I've also seen things I would not repeat to anyone, Joyce included, and I usually can't wait to tell her something naughty I've seen or read. (Her facial expressions are platinum in value!) Lots of phone numbers with invitations to call--never called one (have you?). Comments about people named Kilroy. Or something or other. Even--during election cycles--political commentary.
The folly of that is dazzling. I mean, am I going to change my political views because of something scrawled by a blue ballpoint above a urinal at Tower City? No, I have standards! I change my most cherished political and social beliefs only after reading a Facebook meme showing snarky words superimposed on a photograph of Gene Wilder dressed as Willy Wonka.
But the yellow CAUTION tape ... that's a new one on me. And, of course, it filled my head with questions--and nonsense. Now, does caution mean be careful while you're using this? If so, what will happen? Electrocution? Overflow? Strange music will play? Sirens will go off? A S.W.A.T. team swooping in, screaming--On the ground ... NOW! An explosion? Or perhaps the Sewer Creature will leap out and practice his foul craft on you?
Or does the sign mean you should not use it at all? If so ... why should you be cautious?
Who knows? I do know this. Rather than use it, I photographed it (making sure, of course, that no one saw me--that would be awkward, being seen in the act of photographing a urinal). Instead, I used his next-door neighbor, who wore no yellow ribbon, and offered no complaints or unkind commentary.
URINAL entry from the OED:
Pronunciation: /ˈjʊərɪnəl/ /jʊəˈraɪnəl/
Forms: ME–16 vrinal, ME–15 vrinall(e, ME vrynal, ME–15 vrynall(e, 15–16 urinall (15 urinalle...
Etymology: < Old French urinal (12th cent.; also orinal , plural orignaulx ), < Latin ...
†1. A glass vessel or phial employed to receive urine for medical examination or inspection. Obs.
c1300 (1200) Laȝamon Brut (Otho) (1978) l. 8845 He nam his vrnal [c1275 Calig. glæs-fat] anon an þe king meh þar-on. One wile after þan þe vrnal an honde he nam.
c1386 Chaucer Pardoner's Prol. 19 Thyne vrynals and thy Iurdones.
a1400 Seuyn Sages (W.) 1049 The yonge man..taketh an vrinal for to sen.
c1440 Promp. Parv. 370/1 Orynal, or vrynal, urinale.
1495 in W. H. Stevenson Rec. Borough Nottingham (1885) III. 284, ij vrinalles, price iiij d.
1548 R. Record Vrinal of Physick (new ed.) iv. 14 b, The Vrinall..shulde be of pure clere glasse, not thyck, nor greene in colour.
1596 T. Nashe Haue with you to Saffron-Walden sig. R3v, Then shee neuer need to haue her water cast in an vrinall for the greene sicknes.
1642 T. Fuller Holy State ii. ii. 53 Reasons drawn from the urine alone are as brittle as the urinall.
1685 R. Boyle Ess. Effects of Motion Suppl. 142 Thin Vessels of Glass, especially Urinals, to be diligently made clean with Sand.
1737 T. Knight Let. 20 Feb. in Philos. Trans. 1740–41 (Royal Soc.) (1744) 41 707 The Capillamenta, whilst in the Urinal, and till the Urine was decanted.
1757 tr. J. G. Keyssler Trav. IV. 19 While her maid is stirring a medicine in a spoon, and the physician looking into the urinal.
1858 J. L. W. Thudichum Treat. Pathol. Urine 19 In some hospitals the ancient urinal is still in use.
1650 J. Howell Epistolæ Ho-elianæ (ed. 2) i. 2 When I found those Letters..which he sends as Urinals up and down the world to look into his water for discovery of the crazie condition of his body.
1663 G. Mackenzie Religio Stoici (new ed.) 19 There ye shall know by the Urinal of his eyes, and the water standing therein, what convulsion-fits his soul suffers.
1688 R. Holme Acad. Armory (1905) iii. xiv. 10/2 He beareth Argent, a vrinall Azure.
†2. Alchemy. (See quot. 1738.) Obs.
c1386 Chaucer Canon's Yeoman's Tale 73 Sondry vessels maad of erthe and glas, Oure vrynals and our descensories.
1559 P. Morwyng tr. C. Gesner Treasure of Euonymus 1 Men call it a receiver or a urinall.
1559 P. Morwyng tr. C. Gesner Treasure of Euonymus 212 If ij urinals be set together.
1584 R. Scot Discouerie Witchcraft xii. xvii. 261 Take a glasse viall full of holie water... On the mouth of the viall or vrinall, two oliue leaues must be laid.
1667 R. Boyle Origine Formes & Qual. 298, I took two parcels of Gold,..and having cast each of these in a distinct Urinal,..I caus'd [etc.].
1738 E. Chambers Cycl., Urinal, in chemistry, is an oblong glass vessel, used for making solutions.
3. A chamber-pot.
c1475 Cath. Angl. 405/1 (A.) , An Vrynalle, vrinaria,..vbi Jordane.
1519 W. Horman Vulgaria xviii. f. 168v, Se, that I lacke nat by my beddis syde a chayer of easement:..and an vrnall bye.
1542 N. Udall tr. Erasmus Apophthegmes f. 212v, His groome whose dayly office it was to geve unto hym his urinall in his chaumbre.
1622 J. Mabbe tr. M. Alemán Rogue i. 232 Not finding any of his Pages there, he..tooke the Vrinall himselfe, which stood at his beds head.
1642 Milton Apol. Smectymnuus 13 Some Politicians..lyable to a night-walking cudgeller, or the emptying of a Urinall.
1695 W. Congreve Love for Love ii. i. 20 Did I..warm your Bed, and..set the Candle, and your Tobacco-Box, and your Urinal by you..?
1739 ‘R. Bull’ tr. F. Dedekind Grobianus p. viii, He finds Occasion to inspect the Urinal and the Bed-pan.
a1774 O. Goldsmith tr. P. Scarron Comic Romance (1775) I. vi. 35 Pray reach me the chamber-pot, quoth Rancour... The other..took up the urinal, and gave it to Rancour.
1822 J. M. Good Study Med. IV. 540 Forming red sand on the surface, as it probably would otherwise have done in the bladder or the urinal.
1875 H. C. Wood Treat. Therapeutics (1879) 342 The use of chloral to keep free from odor the urinals of paraplegics.
1699 B. E. New Dict. Canting Crew, Urinal of the Planets, Ireland,..because of its frequent and great Rains.
4. A vessel or reservoir with conductor worn on the person for incontinence of urine.
1855 J. Ogilvie Imperial Dict. Suppl.
1895 Catal. Surg. Instruments (Arnold & Sons) 707 Urinals for Invalids, Travellers, etc. The best quality of Urinals are all made of specially prepared Ætherized India-rubber.
1899 T. C. Allbutt et al. Syst. Med. VIII. 244 The wearing of indiarubber urinals, and other means of avoiding ‘accidents’.
5. A building, erection, or enclosure for accommodating persons when requiring to pass urine.
1851 J. H. Stirling in A. H. Stirling Life (1912) vi. 106, I had put my back to one of the urinals.
1869 E. A. Parkes Man. Pract. Hygiene (ed. 3) 319 Earthen-ware or slate urinals should be used, with water running through them.
1898 G. B. Shaw Candida in Plays Pleasant & Unpleasant 29 A vast district..well served with ugly iron urinals.
C1. attrib. and Comb., as urinal-like, urinal metal.
1611 R. Cotgrave Dict. French & Eng. Tongues, Vrinaire,..vrinall-like.
a1652 R. Brome Queenes Exchange (1657) iv. E 4 b/2 He thinks my skull's made but of urinal mettal.
?1881 Census Eng. & Wales: Instr. Clerks classifying Occupations & Ages (?1885) 99 Urinal Cleaner, Attendant, &c.
† urinal cherry n. Obs. see quot.
1629 J. Parkinson Paradisi in Sole 572 The Vrinall Cherrie..is long and round, like vnto an Vrinall.
urinal-glass n. = sense 1.
1651 J. French Art Distillation i. 37 Put upon it another urinall-glasse inverted.
† urinal monger n. (also urinal quack, urinal-shaker) Obs. a quack doctor who diagnoses by inspecting the urine.
1650 A. Cowley Guardian ii. v. sig. B4, That damn'd Urinal-monger..has not so much physick as would cure the toothach.
1663 A. Cowley Cutter of Coleman-St. ii. viii. 26 Cut. Confusion to the Quack... Wor. He's a kind of Grave-maker, Cut. A Urinal Shaker.
1763 J. Clubbe Physiognomy 7 How came this art into reputation?.. By the same means that Urinal Quacks and Conjurors have had a run here.