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Alternative forms[edit]


From Edinburgh Scots gardyloo, from a corruption of medieval French gardez l’eau (mind the water).[1]




  1. (Scotland, obsolete) Used by people in medieval Scotland to warn passers-by of waste about to be thrown from a window into the street below. The term was still in use as late as the 1930s and 1940s, when many people had no indoor toilets.
    • 1771, Tobias Smollet, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, Dublin: Printed for A. Leathley, J. Exshaw, H. Saunders, W. Sleater, D. Chamberlain [and ten others], OCLC 277265635, republished in The Novels of Tobias Smollett, M.D.: viz. Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, and Humphrey Clinker (Ballantyne's Novelist's Library; II), London: Hurst, Robinson, and Co., 1821, OCLC 271400557, page 626:
      [A]ll the chairs in the family are emptied into this here barrel once a-day; and at ten o'clock at night the whole cargo is flung out of a back windore that looks into some street or lane, and the maid calls Gardy loo to the passengers, which signifies, Lord have mercy upon you! and this is done every night in every house at Haddingborough; so you may guess, Mary Jones, what a sweet savour comes from such a number of profuming pans []
    • 1858, David Laing, “Proposals for Cleaning and Lighting the City of Edinburgh (with Original Signatures of a Number of the Principal Inhabitants), in the Year 1735: With Explanatory Remarks”, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland: Sessions MDCCCLVII.–VIII.—MDCCCLIX.–LX., Edinburgh: Printed for the Society by Neill and Company, published 1862, →OCLC, page 177:
      It would, in fact, seem as if a tacit agreement existed, that so soon as St Giles' clock struck ten, the windows were simultaneously opened for a general discharge (which, in 1745, must have rather alarmed Prince Charles' followers, when they had possession of the town), and the streets and closes resounded with one universal cry, Gardyloo! Dr Jamieson, in his Dictionary, gives the word as Jordeloo: I doubt if any such word was ever used; but in his Supplement the learned Doctor properly assigns it to the original French phrase, Gare de l'eau—Beware the water []
    • 1979, Saturday Review, page 13:
      Gardyloo is a word logophiles find irresistible. According to Ms. Sperling, gardyloo was, "in old Edinburgh, a warning cry before throwing dirty water from windows into the street in the 1770s.  []"
    • 1999, Jan-Andrew Henderson, The Town Below the Ground: Edinburgh's Legendary Underground City, Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing Company, published 2007, →ISBN:
      The method of garbage disposal in the Old Town was to shout ‘Gardy-loo’ and throw everything out the window. Gardy-loo was a warped version of gardez l'eau (approximately French for ‘watch out for the water’) – except it wasn't just water the warning referred to. [] [A] cry of ‘Gardy-loo’ was greeted by the return screech of ‘Haud yer haun’ (hold your hand). This would give you time to get into a doorway and all you suffered was a few splatters.
    • 2015, Marilee Jackson, chapter 37, in Midnight Runner, Springville, Utah: Sweetwater Books, →ISBN:
      His eyes grew wide in revulsion when he realized what had just landed on him. His shout ripped through the midnight sky like a knife. "Gardyloo! Gardyloo! You are supposed to yell gardyloo before you throw your chamber pot out the window! You repulsive vermin, come down here so I can bash in your head!"


gardyloo (plural gardyloos)

  1. (Scotland, historical) A cry of "gardyloo".
    • 1828 October, “Bath. A Satire.”, in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, volume XXIV, page 462:
      What do the polished inhabitants of Carrubber's close care for all the taunts that can be uttered by the mouths of all the tobacco-chewing, bacon-eating bagmen who chatter no intelligible language of any country, about "gardy loos," and Caledonian cremonas?
    • 1865, James David Marwick, Sketch of the History of the High Constables of Edinburgh: With Notes on the Early Watching, Cleaning, and other Police Arrangements of the City[1], Edinburgh: Printed for private circulation [by J. Grieg and Son], →OCLC, page 74:
      Notwithstanding the repeated proclamations of successive magistrates against depositing filth on the streets and closes, and against throwing soil and refuse over the windows, – emphasised as these proclamations were by threats of fines, imprisonment, the pillory, whipping, and banishment, – the practice was continued far into the last century; and contemporary writers represent the sounding of ten o'clock from the steeple of St Giles' to have been the signal for a general and simultaneous discharge from the windows of every house, amid a chorus of "Gardyloos."
    • 1964, Charles Abrams, Man's Struggle for Shelter in an Urbanizing World, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, →OCLC, page 66:
      In many of the less developed areas, rubbish is left on the streets, and dirty water is still flung from the windows without so much as a "gardyloo."
    • 1992, Jeff Torrington, Swing Hammer Swing!, London: Secker & Warburg, ISBN 978-0-436-53120-0; republished by Harvill Secker, 2012, ISBN 978-1-84655-673-9, pages 231–232:
      [] I began to round up the scattered empties which, without so much as a ‘gardyloo’, I chucked from the window into the backcourt.
    • 2004, Gilbert Sorrentino, The Moon in Its Flight: Stories, Minneapolis, Minn.: Coffee House Press, published 2012, →ISBN:
      Granted, the balmy temperatures of these climes may have contributed to the general moral collapse, but the erotic pandemonium of gardyloos, shrieks, halloos, yodels, screams, and fullthroated bellowings cannot be blamed on the weather, and must stand forever as a blot on this otherwise handsomely managed season.
  2. An act of discarding waste or some other substance from a height. Also attributive and figurative.
  3. (figurative) Caution, warning.
    • 1985, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, volume 68, page 87:
      Released but a few weeks before Gremlins, this film drew only foreshadowings of concern that spiraled up into hysterical gardyloos when Gremlins made its debut.
    • 1989, Harlan Ellison, “Crying ‘Water!’ in a Crowded Theater”, Harlan Ellison's Watching, Los Angeles, Calif.: Underwood–Miller, ISBN 978-0-88733-067-4; republished by Open Road Media, 2015, ISBN 978-1-4976-0411-7:
      And now, to be usherhandled up the aisle, my ear pincered excruciatingly, my dear sweet Granny kvetching along behind, intoning half-Yiddish gardyloos about my certain future as either a demented hunchbacked bell-ringer, or a Cossack love-slave ... how ignominous!
    • 1990, Asimov's Science Fiction, volume 14, page 61:
      For all its apocalyptic doomsaying, its frequent pointing with alarm, its gardyloos of caution, the literature of imagination has ever and always promoted an ethic of good manners and kindness via its viewpoint characters.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "gardyloo, n." in the Oxford English Dictionary (1898), Oxford: Oxford University Press.