Calling all makers
March 17, 2017 8:38 AM   Subscribe

Are you familiar with the word "make" being used, as an intransitive verb, to refer to going to the bathroom? Where and when did you learn it?

Every time I hear about "maker" stuff, I think about bathroom functions. This usage comes from exactly two sources that I can remember:

1. The following passage in Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing:
“Does he make?” Jennie asked.
“Make?” I said.
“Make a tinkle?”
“Oh, that. Well, sure. I guess so.”
Jennie laughed. So did Sam and Fudge.
“I make tinkles, too. Want to see?” Jennie asked.
“No,” I said.
2. An episode of King of the Hill in which Bobby mentions yogurt that "helps you make."

The former is set in New York City and the latter is in Texas, so I can't pin it to a region based on these two examples. And in Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing, it could just be one-off preschool-ese.

I don't think I've ever heard it used by anyone in real life, other than myself when I joke about makerspaces.

How common is this usage of "make"? Is it specific to a region or generation? Did you use it or hear it when you were a kid? Did it refer to peeing, pooping, or both? It's been difficult to google, and I'm super curious.
posted by Metroid Baby to Writing & Language (86 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I grew up in the rural south, and "make water" was a pretty common old-timer euphemism for urinating. It's used this way in the movie "Driving Miss Daisy," too, set in 1948 Atlanta, GA.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:41 AM on March 17 [7 favorites]


I remember it from Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and later on found it I believe in the novel (not the short story) Flowers for Algernon.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:42 AM on March 17


For what it's worth, the only time in my WHOLE LIFE I've heard the phrase used that way is in Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing. It stuck with me because it was so odd sounding to me.
posted by slmorri at 8:43 AM on March 17 [19 favorites]


It also seems to be in some dictionaries, going way back. Example:

"Meaning "to arrive at" (a place), first attested 1620s, originally was nautical. Formerly used in many places where specific verbs now are used, e.g. to make Latin (c.1500) "to write Latin compositions." This broader usage survives in some phrases, e.g. to make water "to urinate," to make a book "arrange a series of bets" (1828), make hay "to turn over mown grass to expose it to sun." Make the grade is 1912, perhaps from the notion of railway engines going up an incline."

This makes me think of the French construction "faire xxx," like "faire la vaisselle" or "faire le menage."
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:44 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


This is something I heard growing up in Georgia (from older folks mostly, or young kids with lots of grandparent contact), but something my family (hailing from the midwest) did not say. Talking about your toilet doings is impolite, and "I need to pee" is basically a swear.
posted by phunniemee at 8:44 AM on March 17 [3 favorites]


I feel like this is a thing ppl asked little kids all the time when I was growing up (in Pittsburgh): "Do you have to make?"
posted by leesh at 8:45 AM on March 17 [3 favorites]


We used that when we were kids, and I'm pretty sure I sometimes say it to my kid as a result. Grew up in Chicago, then Pennsylvania.
posted by Mchelly at 8:47 AM on March 17 [3 favorites]


Frank on It's Always Sunny uses this term for pooping. I didn't know it was something people actually say--I figured it was some weird Frank-ism. I definitely never heard it growing up (Seattle).
posted by lovecrafty at 8:53 AM on March 17


Yeah I also heard this as a euphemism for asking kids if they had to go to the bathroom growing up in NY but it wasn't super common.
posted by bleep at 8:54 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


My mother and grandmother regularly used "make" to mean "go to the bathroom" throughout my childhood in NYC, circa 1972-80. As leesh said, it was usually phrased as, "Do you have to make?"

Corollary: I've relatively recently heard a young man in Brooklyn use "make water" to mean "pee."
posted by holborne at 8:57 AM on March 17 [3 favorites]


Reporting from Los Angeles - I know that term from reading but no one I know has ever used it irl.
posted by vignettist at 8:58 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


I heard it as a child in the Chicago area in the 50s, but I don't believe I've heard it anywhere since then.
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:06 AM on March 17


Chicago, as a child in the 60's. I think 'did you make?' precludes the need to mention either pee or poo so is more dainty.
posted by readery at 9:10 AM on March 17


Grew up in the Boston suburbs. I am familiar with the term but I can't say for certain I didn't also learn of it at one of the two places you did. It was certainly never used by my family or friends growing up.

I have also heard "make water" but, again, I think I may have heard it from media and not because it was used around me.

I will never read Make Magazine without snickering again. Thank you.
posted by bondcliff at 9:15 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


My east coast cousins used it to refer specifically to dogs "going to the bathroom." They were breeders.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 9:15 AM on March 17 [4 favorites]


I've heard "make water" but usually in the context of a poor translation from a foreign language. The only time I've heard "make" used alone in this way is in reference to dogs; some people seem to like "Make!" as a do-your-business command for their dog(s). I've heard it a few times in various East Coast places.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 9:19 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Another one here who's heard it used for dogs, and as a sort of jokey way of over-euphemising it for humans.
posted by Etrigan at 9:22 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


I'm sure I encountered this in another kids' novel of the same era/milieu as Toa4GN, maybe several
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:23 AM on March 17


[born and raised Southerner]

My two cents: I've had the term in my head since forever, but I always associated it with defecation. Seeing the phrase "make water" in this thread helps everything make way more sense than what I always thought it meant. Because, you know, the conversation in my head was always like:

"Do you need to make?"
"Make what? Make poop come out my butt? What kind of weird freak slang is that?"

I don't think anyone ever explicitly said that's what it was about. I just gleaned from context, probably from something I read when I was a kid.

"make water" sure does make more sense, but there's no way in hell I'm about to start using it.
posted by komara at 9:24 AM on March 17


My east coast cousins used it to refer specifically to dogs "going to the bathroom." They were breeders.

Reading this, I just realized we almost always use it to refer to the dog.
posted by Mchelly at 9:24 AM on March 17


Ross on Friends yells at the dog to "make" while out in the snow during a blizzard in the episode that Phoebe and Paul Rudd get married.
posted by lunastellasol at 9:25 AM on March 17 [6 favorites]


I'd only heard it used for dogs until the first book in Game of Thrones used "make water". So glad that Martin stopped using it.
posted by conic at 9:27 AM on March 17


My dad used to say "make water" especially as an imperative before we left the house. Irish-American Long Island b.1937 but he was quite a word-nerd so could have picked it up from reading it somewhere.
posted by headnsouth at 9:31 AM on March 17


UK, born 1981. Familiar with "make water" as an archaic term for urination, but only ever encountered "make" used alone for this in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 9:32 AM on March 17


Make water is used in Driving Miss Daisy....and iirc make a sis[sy] is used in Portnoy's Complaint
posted by brujita at 9:32 AM on March 17


I'm from the Netherlands. Seconding Ross on Friends.
posted by Skyanth at 9:33 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Here is a bit of dialogue from an English webcomic, Scary Go Round, in 2008:

Ryan: "Do you got a water closet? I need to make a toilet!"
Shady Fence: "Yonder."
Moon: "So genteel!"

However, the character Ryan usually talks in a circumlocutory personal register that's full of anachronisms and Americanisms, so I certainly wouldn't take it as characteristic of British usage in general.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 9:33 AM on March 17


First time I heard it was when one of the characters in Ghostbusters says that he had been stuck in an elevator and had to "make" the whole time...
posted by BillMcMurdo at 9:39 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


I've heard it exactly once IRL when an old lady in a Rite Aid in Brooklyn was telling me about getting pee pads for her dog.
posted by griphus at 9:40 AM on March 17


NYer, 60s and 70s, was used all the time in my family.
posted by AugustWest at 9:41 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Marian Keyes (Irish) uses the phrase "make/made my wees" a few times in her books. Her family are Dubliners, I think.
posted by threetwentytwo at 9:46 AM on March 17


I've lived in lots of places in the US and I'd never heard it until an episode of Parks & Recreation where guest star and Eagletonian Parker Posey feeds a waffle made in Pawnee to her dog.

"Sambuca need to make?"
posted by mochapickle at 9:51 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


My 96-year-old grandmother absolutely has this usage, to the extent that it's kind of a running joke in my family. She's Ashkenazi Jewish and grew up in the Twin Cities and Chicago. She also speaks decent Yiddish and part of me always wondered if it was a direct translation.
posted by capricorn at 9:55 AM on March 17 [3 favorites]


This is what we used. Grew up in New Jersey, born in 1980.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:58 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Never heard it in the UK (although I was aware of "make water" as an archaic form). I'm pretty sure there's an episode of The Wire where Colvin has a meeting where someone excuses himself to "tinkle" and he jokes to his friend "does he also say 'make a dookie'" - it's clear he thinks the guy is talking like a little kid.
posted by crocomancer at 9:59 AM on March 17


I don't think my grandmother has ever referred to going to the bathroom other than this way, much to the confusion and amusement of doctors, nurses, and my mom's friends. She grew up in Yonkers and was born in 1929.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 10:00 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


As long as we're on the topic of Judy Blume, btw, she also uses that phrase in Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, when one of the characters notes that she knew a dog was a male because she "saw him make." Blume was born in the New York greater metropolitan area (Elizabeth NJ, to be exact) in 1938, so I'm thinking that the expression might be pretty specific to NYC-area Jews of a certain age.
posted by holborne at 10:05 AM on March 17 [4 favorites]


I also first heard about it in Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing, and thought it was weird. Never heard a human use it. Grew up in NJ, 1970s childhood.
posted by Miko at 10:07 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


And I do come from a family of NYC/Pittsburgh Jews of a certain age, so that certainly could be how I heard it as a kid (in the 80s), now that you all mention it.
posted by leesh at 10:08 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


This is a fun Ask. Child of the eighties here, Southern California, middle-class, Mexican-American, non-Spanish-speaking home, my mom used this, usually to refer to poop! As above, asking me or my sister, "Did you make?" or "Do you have to make?"
posted by rio at 10:17 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Leslea Newman uses it in a story about a day in the life of a mother and daughter.
posted by brujita at 10:17 AM on March 17


I would say that today is the first time I heard it, but I know I read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing as a child, so I must have read it then, too. It must not have made enough of an impression on me to remember it. I've never heard it used in real life (Western/Central New York).
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:25 AM on March 17


According to family lore when my aunt, aged four or so, was being checked over after a car accident, the doctor asked her if she had "made a sissy."

Would have been NYC area, maybe around 1960?

(The punchline of the story: she looked at him with offended dignity and replied: "I did void.")
posted by little cow make small moo at 10:37 AM on March 17 [16 favorites]


From the time my sisters and I were very little things, in the 1950s, my mother called these functions "making good girl" and "making grunties." Oy. So, yes, we made.
posted by Dolley at 10:45 AM on March 17 [3 favorites]


Eighties/nineties, Chicago area, yeah. Never used it myself, but other kids did, always (that I recall) with reference to poop.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:46 AM on March 17


Count me as another who definitely heard this from Ashkenazi Jews in the Northeast US in the 1980s. From the exact same parents and teachers who would say “come with” instead of “come with me” (or “come with us”). Some of them spoke Yiddish at home but not all of them.
posted by miles per flower at 11:13 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Grew up in the midwest in the 90's - early 2000's. I can only remember hearing it from that episode of Friends where Ross yells at the dog. I think I was familiar with the phrasing "make water" from historical fiction or old-timey fantasy novels.
posted by cpatterson at 11:20 AM on March 17


I swear I read the term "make water" in Gulliver's Travels. Not often used, but it's either from a scene where Gulliver pees on a Lilliputian house on fire, or some other scene.
posted by curagea at 11:20 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Growing up (1980s, Vermont), family used "make" for pooping and "make water" for peeing. Pretty common around those parts at that time, at least.
posted by General Malaise at 11:36 AM on March 17


Using "make" for bowel movements seemed very common in NYC and in eastern PA in the 50s and 60s.

A short but funny and memorable conversation between my sister (born and raised in PA) and her husband (born and raised in NC) which took place in the 80s:

As he was walking towards my powder room -
Her: Do you have to make peepee?
Him: I already made it. Now I have to get rid of it.
posted by the webmistress at 11:40 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]


I never knew people in real life who used the phrase, but I was aware of it via pop culture. Not sure what sources, but I always associated it with asking dogs to hurry up and "make", even prior to Ross and ChiChi (the wedding dog).
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:40 AM on March 17


Learned it in Germany in the early 80s. Translated, it would mean "I want to make a little brook". I understood it to mean that it was a euphemism for kids needing to go that my hosts enjoyed teaching me, an adult German language learner.

Grew up in Illinois and didn't hear the phrase again till moving to Texas in the 90s. Infrequently hear it now and then.
posted by rw at 12:03 PM on March 17


Upstate NY, early 80s, used exclusively in my house, much to our chagrin as we got older. ITS NOT MAKING, MOM!, we would insist.
posted by drapatz at 12:16 PM on March 17


Can't recall the book, but I remember reading about an elderly woman warning her daughter that her cat was 'making dirt' on the living room floor.
posted by Lycaon_pictus at 12:22 PM on March 17


I have only ever heard Judy Blume say this, although the Algernon reference rings a bell. I read Tales when I was about 7 and I remember asking my mother why they were using such weird terms. We decided they weren't allowed to write "pee" in a book or else that it was an East Coast American thing. My brain registered this information and my mother's explanation that Hamburger Heaven was really a McDonald's, but that Blume couldn't use that term either. However, I was always frustrated that there were mashed potatoes and I wondered what the restaurant really was.

That book also ruined Santa for me.
posted by shockpoppet at 12:22 PM on March 17


Pretty sure I heard make used in reference to going to the bathroom on a recent episode of Detroiters. At least one of the show's stars/writers is apparently from Detroit and spent time as an adult in Chicago.
posted by fuse theorem at 12:30 PM on March 17


Burger Heaven is a small NYC chain.
posted by brujita at 12:35 PM on March 17


Northwest US, born in the 80s. I have never heard this in the wild. If this was a common phrase in my region at any time since the 1950s, I would have heard it due to my mom's enthusiastic embrace of vintage folksy vocabulary ("cuter than a speckled pup", "outta there like a gut-shot panther", etc).
posted by esoterrica at 12:38 PM on March 17


Oh, THIRD reference from Judy Blume, in Iggie's House--a bratty little character announces that she "has to make" when she and her siblings are in a rowboat in the middle of a lake. ("What do you want me to do? Make in the boat?") Clearly Blume expects that kids, if no one else, are going to get this parlance.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:46 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


So I've been thinking about this some more, and it's occurred to me that the way we would use this was always, "I have to make" or "Do you have to make?" Or "everybody go make before we get in the car" But it didn't work the same way for past tense. You might say "I made a [choice of word for whichever elimination took place]," or "did you make everything?"/"I made everything," or "I had to make," but I don't think we ever said "I made."

Agree with everyone suggesting this might be a Yiddish-derived Jewish thing.
posted by Mchelly at 12:50 PM on March 17


I had misremembered Auden's The Cave of Making as an ode to the W.C. "More private than the bedroom, even", sure, but heaps of different papers.
posted by clew at 12:51 PM on March 17


Somewhere in Tanith Lee, doggerel: "He makes love as others make water."
posted by clew at 12:52 PM on March 17


When I was a kid my mom would ask if we had to "make a BM" (bowel movement).
posted by o2b at 12:57 PM on March 17


Born in Ottawa, Canada in the mid-seventies, definitely did not hear this at home or from preschool ladies or anybody else (though like others, if I read it I would be able to puzzle out the meaning from "make water" having appeared in enough old novels).
posted by kmennie at 1:00 PM on March 17


In Brooklyn in the 40's and 50's people used it. My mother, who grew up then, referred to it as "crude" and cautioned us it's not the way "people like us" talk. We said we needed "to tinkle"
posted by mmf at 1:17 PM on March 17


Yet another data point: a friend of mine, raised in Memphis in the 70s and 80s, tells me that his parents used the phrase "make a stool" to mean poop.
posted by holborne at 1:34 PM on March 17


When I was small my grandma would ask if I had to "make shishi". This was in the 90s in Hawaii. I don't remember my parents ever saying it though, so I always associated it with pidgin... wrongly, I guess.
posted by taskmaster at 1:39 PM on March 17


Oh, THIRD reference from Judy Blume, in Iggie's House

ahhh this is 100% the one I was thinking of
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:41 PM on March 17


1970s Ozarks update: saw it in books. We discreetly said "use the restroom" and, if forced to specify, "do your business."

When I was around ten I remember 1. A cousin mentioning "number one" and "number two" and me being baffled; 2. a hospital nurse for whom English was not her first language asking me if I 'went poo poo or just pee pee" in front of my father and me being mortified.
posted by Occula at 2:37 PM on March 17


Mchelly: "So I've been thinking about this some more, and it's occurred to me that the way we would use this was always, "I have to make" or "Do you have to make?" Or "everybody go make before we get in the car" But it didn't work the same way for past tense. You might say "I made a [choice of word for whichever elimination took place]," or "did you make everything?"/"I made everything," or "I had to make," but I don't think we ever said "I made."

Agree with everyone suggesting this might be a Yiddish-derived Jewish thing.
"

Not I made, but the past tense of have to make or did you make was, "I took a shit." I used to wonder, "Took where?"
posted by AugustWest at 2:39 PM on March 17


LOL - which brings us to George Carlin: You don't take a shit. You leave a shit.
posted by Mchelly at 3:45 PM on March 17


i heard my grandmother using the term when i was a kid - she and i are both born and bred in california. i never used it, i would just say "i gotta pee" or, in the classier terms taught to me by my father, "i gotta go to the can".

i remember it also from the movie 'adventures in babysitting', when sara anderson informs chris parker that she's "gotta make", and not understanding what she means, sara finally explains it.
posted by koroshiya at 4:01 PM on March 17


Ross on Friends yells at the dog to "make" while out in the snow during a blizzard in the episode that Phoebe and Paul Rudd get married.

This is where I first heard it I think (1990s, UK).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:37 PM on March 17


I grew up in Maryland in the 90s. I never said it myself, but I had friends who did. "EW, IT SMELLS BAD IN HERE, DID YOU MAKE?"

Can't speak to the Yiddish connection, but the friends who used to say it were Jewish. But also, like 3/4 of my friends were Jewish.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 4:39 PM on March 17


Thirding that it's definitely in Flowers for Algernon, consistent with the various answers from folks from NY and its environs who are familiar with the term. Weak evidence in favour of it being a regionalism?
posted by busted_crayons at 5:51 PM on March 17


I'm thinking that the expression might be pretty specific to NYC-area Jews of a certain age.

"Make" referring to any usage of the toilet (or need to use same) among children was in fact pretty universal in the mostly Jewish area of the Bronx where I grew up in the 1960's. I absolutely never heard it used in reference to dogs.
posted by RRgal at 7:16 PM on March 17



Agree with everyone suggesting this might be a Yiddish-derived Jewish thing.


Umm, I speak Yiddish, and can't think of any Yiddish phrase that would be similar. My Yiddish-speaking grandmother would ask if I needed to "gay pishie" (go peepee), never if I needed to "make."
posted by RRgal at 7:26 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


First place I read this was in an R.Crumb comic where he's out walking with his infant daughter (this was before they moved to France) and he asks Sophie if she needs to make. I guessed it was Jewish slang for taking a dump, not sure why. Figured Crumb picked it up from his wife... but he grew up in Pennsylvania, so maybe it's just a regionalism. Not sure if I've ever heard the term used by anybody IRL (and I'm from Maryland). Does make more sense, 'making' a shit vs. 'taking' a shit.
posted by Rash at 9:29 PM on March 17


Jack Donaghy's "we've become a country of consumers. I for one, am done consuming, and I'm ready to make" is absolutely a play on this.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 11:29 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


I grew up in the Boston area during the 1960s, raised by parents from Kansas and California. Our synonym for the verb " to poop" was "to make a mess." This usage was not common in my circle.
posted by carmicha at 12:56 AM on March 18


I also read Toa4GN but I know I heard this usage several times as riffs in Mystery Science Theater 3000.
posted by wannabecounselor at 2:44 AM on March 18


Another Boston area person. I've heard various euphemisms involving the word make, eg "make potty", but have never heard the word "make" alone meaning that.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:25 AM on March 18


Yes; "I have to make." Bronx, NYC childhood 1970s -1980s . But I also read "Tales of Fourth Grade Nothing" around that time and I wonder if it was an influence.
posted by Neeuq Nus at 1:28 PM on March 18


I'm from the West Coast and only ever read it in books, probably Judy Blume, but possibly others of the same vintage. I do seem to remember a movie with a whiny little brother(?) saying, "I need to maaaaaaake," but I don't know which movie, and that's a completely ungoogleable phrase.
posted by linettasky at 10:55 PM on March 18


Oh my god, yes! My parents used "make" and it was mortifying. No one ever knew what it meant and it made my (older, foreign) parents seem even more uncool. My mother still uses the word and every time she does I flash back to the time in 1976 that Linda R spent the night, and at bedtime my mom came in and asked if we needed "to make" before bed and Linda asked, "Make what?"

"Make" referring to any usage of the toilet (or need to use same) among children was in fact pretty universal in the mostly Jewish area of the Bronx where I grew up in the 1960's. I absolutely never heard it used in reference to dogs.

I'm jewish and i had no idea where they got it from. Mom is Belgian, dad was Polish, but I was born in Brooklyn. Even though i grew up in L.A. it seems like maybe that's where it comes from? 45 years later and I'm still embarrassed by it but I'm glad to know they weren't the only ones to use it.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:00 AM on March 19


To clarify about canine usage, my mom definitely took the dog out to make.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:02 AM on March 19


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