Credit: Bailey Vogt

If you’re reading this in the loo, the john, or the water closet…you’re wildly on brand for today’s newsletter.

That’s because D.C.’s Planet Word, an immersive language gallery which opened in Fall 2020, is a finalist in the Best Restroom Award this year. Cintas, which provides restroom supplies for businesses, among other things, hosts the contest. Its restrooms merit recognition because their walls are decorated with words, phrases, and euphemisms devoted to toilet humor.  

Ann Friedman, founder and CEO of Planet Word, says she wanted her celebration of language to touch every part of the museum, and that vision shows. The floors are a mosaic of alphabets from different civilizations throughout history, the lockers are marked with phonetic alphabets, and the bathrooms show off the language used to talk about the bathroom

“I knew I wanted to have bathroom humor,” she says. “This is a small museum to cover all language arts, so we needed to use every surface possible.”

It definitely doesn’t feel like a small museum as Friedman leads me around to all of the different bathrooms on each floor. Each bathroom has a different theme in regards to language. The one on the first floor is all about euphemisms. The gender neutral restrooms feature phrases like “empty the tank,” “heed the call of nature,” and even “Take the Browns to the Superbowl.”

“We had a visitor from Cleveland who loved that line,” she says, adding that the euphemisms are “what we could find that was not too colorful to be put in a museum.”

Friedman and I ended up sharing a laugh over my favorite euphemism, “a meeting in the Oval Office.”

We then head to the fourth floor’s event space where synonyms for “restroom” decorate the bathroom walls. The mezzanine level’s commode includes different names for animal droppings.

“You think ‘OK, it’s poop?’ No, actually, you know there’s specific names for droppings,” Friedman says. “When you see your yard in Washington, littered with … deer droppings. They’re really called ‘fewmets.’”

Friedman says she opened Planet Word after she retired from her career as a reading and writing teacher. She was looking for a way to present her love of literacy in an accessible way. She was inspired by a museum in New York which was using tech to teach mathematics.

“In my search for what to do with my life and my interest, I said, ‘Hmm… What about a museum about working on language?’” she says, adding there’s no exploration of correct grammar. “The idea was to draw people into being interested in words and language and reading … we’re celebrating language as people really use it.”

We then head to the third floor bathroom, which is covered with ways to say “Where’s the bathroom?” in different languages. Friedman says she used a linguist to ensure they were getting all of the language correct.

“She had to check the script too, and how that would appear on the tiles,” she says “And that the tiles weren’t put on the wall upside down or backwards, because …  they’re not everyday languages that everybody knows.”

Finally she shows me the second floor bathroom complete with puns such as “to pee or not to pee?” and “if at first you don’t succeed… flush, flush again.” Cintas Marketing Manager Sean Mulcahey says that type of humor and creativity hit their bathroom contest “right on the head.”

“It could be a simple design of just simply a restroom and they go above and beyond creating a unique experience for anybody that visits there, both through the whole facility, especially then in the restroom as well,” he said.

Mulcahey says they run the contest because we all remember negative bathroom experiences but rarely celebrate the positive ones. People nominate their favorite restrooms and Cintas chooses who will be in the running for the “America’s Best Restroom” hall of fame.

Friedman says she doesn’t know who nominated Planet Word, but she says a win would be absolutely fantastic for its mission.

“It would mean that people understood that you can make something interesting and educational, you know in any corner of any place,” she says. “There are things to learn, there are words to be used and discovered… even in the bathroom.”

The winner is determined by votes, which you can cast on Cintas’ Best Restroom contest website.

Bailey Vogt (tips? bvogt@washingtoncitypaper.com)

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