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Mattie:

Why in cartoons do you always see an outhouse with a crescent moon cut in the door?

-- Gotta Go, San Diego

Well, maybe because there were actual outhouses with crescent moons cut in the door. Not sure I'm ready to believe the word of some guy who's spent his life studying toilets through the ages, but unfortunately that's all we've got. Crapper historians say it all started around the 1600s, when people traveled by carriage and stayed at inns. A private privy could have any kind of hole cut in it for light and ventilation, but when you had strangers descending on the outhouses, you needed one for men and one for women. The way we have those little stick figures wearing skirts or trousers as universal markers for ladies' and men's loos, innkeepers used the moon and the sun, universally understood symbols for female and male. But since men could just find a convenient tree and relieve themselves without embarrassment, often there was just a ladies' outhouse. Hence the crescent moon on the door. Hence the stereotype.

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