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"Courtesy Flush" and Other Phrases Coined by a Famous Person

December 11, 2017

Celebrities: They’re beautiful, talented, and they even invent words and phrases!

Courtesy flush

As purveyors of the world’s finest and largest books of trivia read in the bathroom, we like to keep up with all the slang terms and phrases related to everything that goes on in what we call “the reading room.” One phrase that’s permeated the culture in the last 20 years: “Courtesy flush.” It refers to the gesture of flushing in a public restroom before one is quite done, as a way to rid the shared space of odor-causing refuse. It’s a simple phrase, but all phrases have to be invented by someone, and that someone is actor, comedian, and celebrity ex-husband Tom Arnold. In 1997 he appeared in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. While he did his business in one stall, Austin Powers fought off an evil henchman in the next one over. Arnold’s character thinks Powers is having a hard time with, um, himself, not a bad guy and asks, “How ‘bout a courtesy flush, pal?” Powers obliges (flushing the henchman’s face) the request — a phrase Arnold improvised on the spot.


The EGOT is the “quadruple crown” of entertainment awards. Each letter refers to a different sector’s most prestigious honor: E is for TV’s Emmy, G is for music’s Grammy, the O is for the Oscar, and the T is for Broadway’s Tony. A very elite club of entertainers has completed the sweep, such as Whoopi Goldberg, Richard Rodgers, Helen Hayes, and Mel Brooks. Not in the club: actor Philip Michael Thomas. Thomas has only had one huge role in his career: He played Det. Ricardo Tubbs on the oh-so-‘80s TV smash hit Miami Vice. When the show was at its culturally influential peak in 1984, Thomas made appearances wearing a custom-made gold medallion that read “EGOT.” He mentioned in a 1984 interview, “Hopefully in the next five years I will win all of those awards.” His ambition is certainly admirable, but he never won an E, G, O, or T — but he did land a People’s Choice Award (and introduce a phrase into the lexicon).

Hot mess

It’s about one of the few times that calling another person “hot” is not complimentary. In the ‘90s, comedian Chelsea Handler used the term “hot mess” in her act to refer to men or women that are spectacularly falling apart in public. By the time Handler got her own talk show, Chelsea Lately, on the E! Network in the mid-2000s, celebrities like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan dominated tabloid headlines, and that was a subject Handler loved to joke about on her show. She started referring to publicly disheveled celebrities who embarrassed themselves as “hot messes,” and the phrase caught on with the general public.

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