If you see a tiny building standing by itself, check the door. If there’s a crescent moon cutout there, you know it’s an outhouse. We all know that, just the way we know a barber shop has a striped pole and a pawn shop has three balls outside the door. But why a crescent moon? And how did that custom begin? There are a lot of explanations, some more plausible than others.
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For example, in Outhouses, it’s claimed that “it’s a widely held historical view” that the crescent moon is a holdover from a time when illiteracy was rife. Supposedly before the adoption of the more familiar male and female bathroom symbols, it was common to use a crescent moon to denote that an outhouse was for women and a sun to denote that it was an outhouse for men. This supposedly being a nod to the fact that women have long being associated with the moon and men supposedly with the sun.
From here, opinion is divided on why the crescent moon rather than the sun caught on as the defacto symbol for an outhouse, with perhaps the most common explanation being that men’s outhouses fell into disrepair because men would just do their business in the great outdoors as God intended, without need of such an enclosure. Thus, only the women’s outhouses were left regularly used and the others went the way of the dodo.
As you might have guessed from the number of “supposedlies” in our previous paragraphs, there is absolutely no evidence supporting that being the origin of the crescent moon on outhouses. And, in fact, the evidence we do have seems to indicate that that hypothesis is about as accurate as the contents of that political chain-letter forwarded to you by your great-grandmother.
The true story behind the crescent moon on an outhouse will surprise no one who’s had to live with an outhouse, nor anyone who has struggled to use a scroll saw. And besides answering that question, we get a bonus history of the act of “mooning,” at Today I Found Out.
(Image credit: Javier Robles)