Comedians have been having some fun over a couple of recent scandals where people have purchased antique commodes for many thousands of dollars. First there was Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham who, it was revealed in 2005, had received two antique, French commodes as “gifts.” Cunningham was later convicted of bribery. Now it has been revealed that former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain had redecorated his office to the tune of $1.2 million while his company was circling the drain. The redecoration included a commode worth some $35,000. The humor, and much of the outrage, is in the idea of a really expensive toilet.

But that’s not what is meant by commode, at least not in these cases. The word commode today does refer to a bathroom fixture, but this was not always the case. The commodes in these cases are chests of drawers, a sense that is not much in use today outside of antiquing circles.

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