Where did “Poop Deck” and “The Head” Originate? Know Your Ship!

“The Head”

I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “I gotta hit the head” – probably an uncle… yeah, you know the one I’m talking about. Though he’s probably quite pirate-esque, I bet he doesn’t know that his endearing term for “the toilet” is of nautical origin.

The Head” of a ship is located at the bow (the front) of the vessel. Prior to the days of cruising, larger boats were powered primarily by wind and sails. As such, they had to travel with the wind pushing the vessel forward, blowing from back to front. If you’ve ever been downwind of a cow pasture, you’ll realize why these clever sailors positioned the toilet upwind, away from all of the action.

Evidently, enough seafarers announced their bathroom visits to “the head” of the ship to make it stick.

the head toilet


The dictionary definition of “Poop Deck” is as follows:  “the after-most and highest deck of a ship, especially in a sailing ship where it typically forms the roof of a cabin in the stern.”

Boring, yes.

Some say that the “poop deck” got its name from sailors who would “drop trou” from the rear of the ship. Given the previous definition of “the head,” this would actually make sense with the advent of mechanical engines. A ships motor would likely result in wind blowing from front to rear, in which case it’s a good idea to have the toilet at the rear.

Unfortunately, that logic doesn’t hold true in this case. We got the term, “poop deck” from the French. The French word for “stern” is “la poupe.” And that, my ship mates, is where “poop deck” originated. I hope that this helped “clear the air.”

poop deck definition

P.S. – if you’re offended by the toilet humor, I apologize.  Just remember, everyone la poupes.

Do you know anyone who uses the terms “the head” or “poop deck?”  If so, make sure to send this to them!  Click “Like” below if you learned something here today.

7 Replies to “Where did “Poop Deck” and “The Head” Originate? Know Your Ship!”

  1. do many people know where the word sh_t comes from.
    well it means stow high in transit.
    in the 1800s they stowed things like spices and other cargo high on top of other cargo so it would not get damp.

  2. I always thought the head was placed at the bow area because it extended out over the sea facilitating depositing waste into the sea.

  3. La Poupe is French for “Stern” as in the stern of a ship. it in turn came from the word for stern in Latin which is puppis. While we are at it, of course Crap comes from the inventor of the flush toilet Thomas Crapper.

  4. Sorry, that’s a complete furphy – “shit” comes from Old English “scitan”, Middle English “shiten”, and the slightly newer “shite”, which some people still use.

    Generally if something from prior to about 1900 is said to be an acronym, it probably isn’t.

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