This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
Has civilisation come to an end? Is the owner of said roll of toilet paper deliberately trying to antagonise me? Does this mounting of the roll pay homage to a brand of humour of dubious quality like that found in the Jackass movies?
I’m being generous when I say "my preference". I am trying to portray myself as being open minded, fair to my fellow world citizens and accepting of alternative ways of conducting one’s business. In reality, I shake my head in disbelief, disappointment and distain for the poor wayward soul who knows not what hellish instrument of destruction to proper bathroom etiquette he or she has unleashed on an unsuspecting world. I’m certain all the great thinkers, philosophers and religious figures of repute would find my arguments flawless, exemplary and indicative of any civilisation which would dare to call itself truly civilised.
Off the top. There’s no question about it. It is obvious. It is natural. The practicality of the option is so self-evident, I would have to label it "a priori". This is so right; this is so perfect; I can only say that there is no other choice. Now I am aware that the expression of what you consider to be merely "my opinion" as opposed to a clear statement of truth, reality and the natural order of the universe may sound in your ears with a degree of stubbornness representative of a close minded individual. I want to assure you that nothing could be further from the truth as I am in regards to this question to be one of a complete openness to everyone’s freedom to choose what they feel is right and appropriate even if that choice is the wrong one. I am broadminded.
Modern toilet roll holders are solid fixed structures. These are very different from the old fashioned type which is rigid, but hangs against the wall. It is here, in my opinion, we find the antecedents of the "hang under" style.
I grew up in what one would consider to be a modern home. Okay, this was during the 50’s and 60’s but I think we would qualify that as being modern. All of the toilet paper dispensers were rigid and held the paper to roll away from the wall. This was my first experience with a roll of toilet paper and gave me this indelible impression of what all paper dispensers were or should have been.
However, my modern life was disrupted once a year when the entire family gave up their trappings of civilisation to rough it as it were in a rented cottage where the usual amenities were either of a less quality or didn’t exist at all. For the first couple of years of our annual pilgrimage, the expression going to the bathroom actually was going to the outhouse. As a little boy, I remember taking a bath involving a galvanised tub filled with hot water from the kettle on the stove. Yes, this was roughing it.
The toilet paper dispenser was nothing more than a square of metal wire which hung against the wall. As the roll was unfurled, the roll rubbed against the wall and it is this idea which presents a valid argument for letting the paper hang under. Why? When you grab the end of the paper from the underside and pull, you pull to a certain extent the roll of paper away from the wall. It is this lessening of the pressure of the tissue against the wall which facilitates its unfurling. When the paper hangs off the top and you pull, you are doing nothing to reduce the pressure of the roll against the wall and unfurling the paper is more difficult due to the friction of the paper rubbing against the wall. Considering that some of those walls were merely unfinished wood, wood which may have been fairly rough, rolls of toilet paper did not necessarily unroll easily. But, when you pulled on paper hanging from the underside, you definitely had an easier time of it.
That is the argument for placing the roll so the paper hangs under but this is based on the type of dispenser which is not rigid but hangs against the wall. When the dispenser is rigid and can hold the roll away from the wall so it is unencumbered by the friction of paper rubbing against the wall, the argument for having the paper come off the roll over the top comes into play.
When hanging off the top, the end of the paper is easier to see. When hanging under the roll, the end is not always clearly visible and it is more difficult to find. Don’t forget that ofttimes, whether hanging over or hanging under, toilet paper will stick to the roll so even when you spin the roll, the end of the paper does not necessarily unfurl and come down. Being able to see the end of the paper can be important to the unfurling process.
The rest of the world
Wikipedia’s article on this issue has some amusing stories. As Ann Landers apparently pointed out, despite all the important things happening in the world, her readers would weigh into this issue with surprising vehemence. I quote from Wikipedia about the consequences of this issue:
Even at the Amundsen-Scott research station at the South Pole, complaints have been raised over which way to install toilet paper. During the six-month-long polar night, a few dozen residents are stuck living together, and while many of the headaches of modern life are far away, food and hygiene are not. Despite the challenges posed by the hostile Antarctic climate, "It is in the more mundane trials of everyday life that personality clashes are revealed."
I suppose that unto itself explains the importance of this question. This is a personal issue; an issue which touches the very core of our being. Okay, I’m being funny but it is a pain in the butt to swipe at the roll to get the end of the paper to come off so you can grab it only to discover the roll has been put on the opposite way.
My step-daughters grew up in a household where "under" was the standard. They follow suit. Periodically when I’m over and I visit the loo, I switch the roll as both a devilish prank and a scream of recognition for my preference. Ahhhh!!!! Their mother will still do this but somehow I think I’ve managed to convince her to do it "my way" in our household. Whew! That was close. We would have had to go to couple’s counselling over this one. Ha!
Expert Diagrams: spindle against the wall
This web site (link to give credit!) presents some diagrams which show very clearly the problem of dealing with a spindle which is not rigid, which hangs against the wall.
In this first diagram, we can easily see how pulling from the top pushes the roll against the wall, increasing friction and possibly leading to the paper prematurely tearing.
Expert Diagrams: rigid spindle away from the wall
This web site presents a different scenario where the spindle is fixed. This makes for another set of problems.
Figure 1 shows how under can lead to the problem of finding the end of the paper.
Expert Diagrams: over vs. under and the winner is over
Another set of diagrams clearly favours over as opposed to under.
- Over reduces the risk of accidentally brushing the wall or cabinet with one’s knuckles, potentially transferring grime and germs.
- Over makes it easier to visually locate and to grasp the loose end.
- Over gives hotels, cruise ships, and homeowners with guest bathrooms the option to fold over the last sheet to show that the room has been cleaned. See hotel toilet-paper folding.
- Over is generally the intended direction of viewing for the manufacturer’s branding, so patterned toilet paper looks better this way.
- Under provides a tidier appearance, in that the loose end can be more hidden from view.
- Under reduces the risk that a toddler or a house pet, such as a dog or cat, will completely unroll the toilet paper when batting at the roll.
- Under in a recreational vehicle may reduce unrolling during driving.
For those of us who just aren’t satisfied with the debate as is, you can always vote and give Cottenelle at least a piece of your mind. They have set up a web site to allow people to vote on over or under. As of this moment, 72% have voted over while only 28% have voted under.
At the end of the day, the real reason one would argue one way or the other comes down to habit. You reach for the toilet paper and expect to find it a certain way. When you discover it otherwise, it’s a pain. I’m sure the same argument can be put forward to that similar and amusing battle over whether the toilet seat should always be left in the down position (see my blog The Great Debate: Seat Up or seat down?). Yes, there are people who take up both sides of the argument and are entrenched in their views. Apparently, in a household this particular issue has led to World War III. However, one amusing story recounted how a man fell into the toilet bowl at the age of seven and ever since, has always looked to verify the position of the seat before sitting down. Likewise, I, and others, could look at the roll and discern its position before blindly trying to unfurl it based on our personal preference as to how a roll should be mounted. You corksoaker!
Click HERE to read more from William Belle.
Wikipedia: Toilet paper orientation
Toilet Paper Orientation Debate: 10 Arguments In Favor Of Over & Under – July 2010 with videos
Ask MetaFilter: users debate the issue – May 2007
directedge.us: Proper Loading of Toilet Paper – Sep 2006
Know Your Meme: The Great Toilet Paper Debate – Nov 2010 with videos
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