You Say Poh-tab-lah

The other day I was in a city-owned building downtown: one of those 1960’s cement block uglies whose sole architectural emphasis seems to have been functionality, specifically, How to ensure that the people working inside this building feel like they’re nothing more than worker bees in a concrete hive.  As I was using the bathroom I noticed a sign above the urinal: “This toilet uses reclaimed water, non-potable”.

I consider myself to be a reasonably intelligent person, but after thinking on this for several days I’m still unsure what ‘reclaimed water’ is.  What struck me more noticeably was the ‘non-potable’ portion of the sign.  If you’ve ever traveled overseas you’ve probably seen this phrase at various water sources, but it’s not often that I’ve seen it used in the States.  The root word, potare, comes directly from the Latin for “to drink,” and the ‘non-‘ portion should be fairly self-explanatory.  That said, I can’t help but think that if you’re the sort of person who drinks water out of a public men’s room urinal you’re probably unfamiliar not only with the etymology of the word, but the actual meaning as well. Given that no one has ever lost money betting on the stupidity of the average human, perhaps a simple “Do NOT drink this water” would have been a more effectual usage of funds.

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