Lieu vs. Loo

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Lieu and loo are two words that are pronounced in the same way when spoken aloud but are spelled differently and have different meanings, which makes them homophones. Homophones exist because of our ever-changing English language. The way the spelling and definitions differ can be confusing when attempting to learn vocabulary correctly. Pronunciation may change, even though the spelling doesn’t, producing two words that are pronounced in the same manner but have different meanings such as knight and night. English words are also spelled according to their etymologies rather than their sound. For instance, the word threw is derived from the Old English word thrawan, and the word through came from the Old English word thurh. Homophones are commonly misspelled words, because of the confusion that arises from words that are pronounced alike but have very different usage and etymology. A spell checker will rarely find this type of mistake. We will examine the definitions of the words lieu and loo, where they possibly came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

The word lieu is almost exclusively used in the phrase in lieu of, which means instead of something or as a replacement for something. For instance, if one returns an item to a store, the store might offer a voucher in lieu of cash. A country doctor may take a payment of corn in lieu of money. When used by itself, the word lieu means place, but this archaic meaning is almost never used. The word lieu is derived from the Old French word lieu which means place or rank, and entered the English language in the 1200s.

Loo is primarily a British term, and means a toilet. The origin of the term loo to mean a toilet is up for debate. The term was not in general use until the 1940s, and the earliest known use of the term occurred in James Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922. There are many theories as to the origin of the term loo. One theory, which seems reasonable, is the idea that it is an Anglicization of the French phrase lieux d’aisances, a euphemism for the toilet. British soldiers who fought in France in World War I could have brought the phrase home with them. Another plausible theory involves a British company that made iron cisterns used in outdoor privies during the early twentieth century. The company was named Waterloo, and its name appeared prominently on the cisterns.


It seems that early on our county commissioners agreed that LNG would not incur county taxes each year but instead would pay a fee in lieu of those taxes and that an appointed committee would be in charge of determining how the fee was distributed. (Coos Bay World)

Simon Property formally turned over the property to MSCI via a deed in lieu of foreclosure on Jan. 2 of this year. (The Bangor Daily News)

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Nathan’s memory to McClure Miller Respite House, 1110 Prim Road, Colchester, VT 05446 (The Rutland Herald)

Just last month, Oxford was awarded the ‘loo of the year’ award for the best council-run public conveniences in the country. (The Herald)

They will be gently taught to stay 20m from wildlife, never feed native birds and poo in a loo (or in a pressure situation, do it away from people and waterways and cover it up afterwards). (The New Zealand Herald)

Enjoyed reading about these homophones? Check out some others we covered: