Tuesday, May 12, 2015

So THAT'S why we shake with the right hand...

  My wife does the shopping, God bless her. Not out of a love of stores, but simply because she knows if she sends me, I'll both buy the wrong stuff and spend too much doing it.
    But sometimes I tag along, to keep her company, though my interest isn't really held by the snagging of items on the list, and I tend to wander, like a child, and set off on impromptu anthropological expeditions, either intrigued by the DaVinci sketchbook diversity of my fellow shoppers, or studying trends in marketing.
     For instance, I recently found myself detained in the toilet paper aisle, first by this package of Cottonelle, with its "clean ripple texture" which is the sort of unexceptional euphemistic pap you'd expect, perhaps distinguished by "ripple"—good word—but leading to that  surprising "removes more."
     Oooh, I thought closing in like a lepidopterist spotting a rare butterfly, tip-toeing right up to it, aren't we? That dangling transitive verb, "removes," qualified by "more" and then just ... left there, dangling. Removes ...  more ... what?"
    Well, they can't say, of course, this being America, and we being among the most prudish, inhibited people who ever walked the earth. We can't say, we can barely bring ourselves to think about it. Which also explains all these cute animals, blubbery bears and playful puppies, trying to dance around what people do with their TP.  I haven't done a study of all toilet paper packaging ever, but I would bet cash money there are very few adults on those ever-increasing packages of toilet paper, enormous blocks that you could build homes with. Paper towels can be Brawny, can feature a lumberjack. But toilet paper isn't going to feature, oh, a smiling chef holding a big cake that will only end up ... well, you know.
     The only human I noticed in the toilet paper aisle was this infant, the AngelSoft baby, and I suppose if we take them at their word, that's not a human either, but an wraith, an incorporeal spirit. 
    Admire the irony in that. They can't mention what toilet paper cleans up, or show an actual person who might dab at their nether regions with it, but they are comfortable  flogging their product with dead babies, with enlisting as mascots babies who have died and are now angels.
    I don't really blame them. I don't want to write a post about the details of wiping shit either. We all know. 
    Or do we? For instance, what did people use to remove more before toilet paper? The Greeks used stones. There are books on the subject, "Wiped: The Curious History of Toilet Paper," by Ronald H. Blumer, a well-researched study. He begins slowly, as one must, surveying the various euphemisms for "go to the toilet." My favorite being, during the Constitutional Convention of 1789, the Founding Fathers were familiar with an East Coast showman exhibiting a camel, an exotic wonder, and Thomas Jefferson et al would excuse themselves from their deliberations by saying, "I think I'll go out and take a peep at the camel."
   Or the aptly-named "What Did We Use Before Toilet Paper? 200 Curious Questions & Intriguing Answers" by Andrew Thompson. The short answer: lots of stuff, from the Romans' sponge on a stick to coconut husks in Hawaii.
    "Wealthy people around the world used hemp and wool, with lace being used by the French royalty. British lords used pages from books," Thompson writes. "Poorer people used their hands, [their left hands, usually, which is why we shake with our right] grass, stones, moss, seashells or wood shavings, while the use of water was also common around the world. ... In the U.S., newspapers and telephone directories were common used, as were other books. The Old Farmer's Almanac was actually printed with a hole punched through the corner of each page so that it could be hung in outhouses, and the Sears catalogue was widely used..."
    Coyness in selling the stuff is as old as bathroom tissue itself. When the first toilet paper was mass produced in the United States in 1857 by Joseph Cayetty, it was also marketed with extreme delicacy, labeled as "Therapeutic Paper" (bold, considering that when Kimberly-Clark first started marketing Kotex, in 1920, it was sold in plain white boxes with its first name, "Cellunap" and nothing else, no description of its intended use whatsoever. But even that proved too much for both customers and drug store owners, who insisted the boxes be wrapped in plain brown paper. Kimberly-Clark changed the product's name to "Kotex" trying to lose the customer-alienating "nap," short for "napkin," and spent years coaxing the boxes out from behind counters). 
     But enough of this. I'm trying to attract readers, not repel them. Certain topics evoke memory of the voice of Nigel Wade, my long ago New Zealand press lord editor. "Steinberg!" he would bellow. "I was eating my poached egg when I read that!" So apologies all around. Something more appetizing tomorrow. 

36 comments:

  1. That may be why Arabs use the right hand, but we use the right hand to shake due to the way medieval knights carried their swords on their left sides, so it was drawn with the right hand, so offering the right hand showed you didn't have any evil intentions.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. true indeed, Clark

      Delete
    2. Actually it was a Roman custom. That's why sinister (meaning left handed) got such a bad name, as a sinister swordsman could grab your right hand and slice you up with his left hand free.

      Delete
    3. It started with the Romans, which is why sinister (left handed) got such a bad reputation - a sinister swordsman could greet you, and while holding your right hand, slice you up with his left hand.

      Delete
  2. The TP marketers are certainly moving the bar lately, so to speak. The most remarkable thing I've noticed is the ridiculous "Enjoy the go" commercials from Charmin. Really? And they're evidently pushing this motto on social media, etc. I find that disturbing, at a minimum.

    I'll let this website take over, though...

    "Every once in a great while we encounter a campaign so execrable it defies belief. Charmin's 'Enjoy the go' fits the bill and causes us to question whether the marketing geniuses at Procter & Gamble have lost their minds."

    http://www.brandculture.com/enjoy-the-go-procter-gamble-charmin/

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow, I missed that one. Amazing.

    ReplyDelete
  4. In the future we will have virtual bowel movements. No toilet paper required. Good for the environment.

    ReplyDelete
  5. You could buy a nice Japanese toilet and not have to buy another roll of toilet paper ever. Of course, there are worse things than lousy toilet paper (Charmin's got to be among the worst - maybe 3 go's per roll and clogs galore) -- see Rose George's The Big Necessity.

    john

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I hate Charmin. It does clog the toilet. Most of those soft ones do. Scott's is good enough.

      Even on a "crappy" subject, our host manages to add wit to a story.

      Delete
  6. Why again does Neil and most locals choose to ignore the reparations for torture story that went nationwide again last week? Is it outside agitator journalists, merely rogue cops, or more terrible Daley legacy that civic legacy that boosters seek to wish away?

    Richie's a big part of the pension crisis, too, so it's no wonder he doesn't show his face outside of funerals.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think your question answers itself. Why, you ask, am I ignoring a story that is big news here and across the nation? Because it's big news here and across the nation. I'm not the hallelujah chorus. Police torture is bad, stop the presses, and if I drew attention to Rahm Emanuel's rather unprecedented apology in the well of the City Council last week, then I'd just be blowing him further, in your estimation. If your complaint is that you don't see the object of your interest here, then I would advise you to seek it elsewhere. This blog is written exclusively for the enjoyment of the type of people who want to read the type of stuff that is written here.

      Delete
    2. In earlier grammar days, they would tell us not to start a sentence with because-of course that changed later.

      Delete
    3. It is, however, still proper to use a comma after "of course." But no need for formality here among friends.

      Delete
    4. You are right, Coey. That was my error.

      Delete
  7. Never mind that, I'd like to no what he thinks of Brady. I know we can read Morissey's take on it. But I'd like to hear it from Neil and also his thoughts on the Pacific trade deal.

    ReplyDelete
  8. meant know not no , above

    I think, Neil, that some here, might want to hear your way of putting things and not just any report.

    Perhaps your writing is addictive.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I mean sure, we can read it from Lynn Sweet at times or USA today part, but that's still not the same as your writing style. No, I'm not blowing smoke at you, it's true.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Oh yes, you mentioned that NZ editor in your "Chicago" book, I believe.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Well, thanks for the idea. The only thought I've had is that the $500 million the city has paid out to settle cop abuse cases is the exact same as it owes to cop pensions, so maybe, if cops were a little more reluctant to crack skulls, we wouldn't be as broke as we are. But that's a line, not a column.

    ReplyDelete
  12. thanks, yes, that and the city not being willing to settle so quickly, then even those who don't deserve benefits are suing

    ReplyDelete
  13. Too bad some criminals want to crack the cops skulls or worse.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I have to second Nigel, in that I'm glad I didn't read this a little closer to lunch.

    To me the most absurdly euphemistic commercials were those ones for women's sanitary products that portrayed menstruation as this rollickingly blissful experience that compelled women to ride horses on the beach once a month.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Exactly, Mr. Scribe. Or that they'd poor blue liquid into a pad as a demonstration... if only.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't have any way of knowing for sure in this instance, but I suspect that too much demonstration and technical description can be counterproductive in advertising such items. Possibly the first, and now famous, add for these products was the best. It showed a beautiful woman, elegantly gowned, and had only two words of text. "Modess...because,"

      Tom Evans

      Delete
    2. That's going back a ways, I was a kid when I last saw that product on the shelves. Thanks for the reminder. I remember asking my strict, Italian born mother what that was for and she wouldn't tell me until the 11th hour.

      Delete
  16. Scribe, lol, that's a good one.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I generally see the photo atop the blog, admire it for its own sake, but then forget about it when I read the post. Fortunately, I usually come back later and it occurs to me why Neil may have put it there. Today's is cherce, as Spencer Tracy might say. Whatever that plant is, it's strikingly photogenic. And silky smooth, I imagine! ; ) Or maybe I'm reading too much into this -- he doesn't seem to mention "leaves" in the post...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. yes, leaves was another one of the olden days usings as I read/ heard and old newspapers

      Delete
    2. I thought the pic meant the article was to be about salads.

      Delete
  18. Don't know about the rest of you, but I don't read Neil for breaking news. Or "scoops," a la Sneed. Or political prejudices like his colleague Steve Huntley's daily take on the horribleness of everything Obama. Or Chicago street level politics like the estimable Mr. Brown. Or meaningless speculation about whether or not the coach of the Bulls is going to be fired, as the sports guys are obliged to indulge in. He could, as a reporter, touch on any of these, but his beat as a columnist is the whole of the human comedy and he applies a gift for apt comparisons and metaphors that resonate in walking it. He writes in the tradition of the "personal essay" to which he is a worthy contributor. Today's column might seem inconsequential in that it won't influence how I vote, where I invest my money, or conduct my personal life in any way, but I for one feel enriched from learning a bit about the history of ass wiping.

    In short, we really don't need Steinberg's take on every "topic du jour."

    Tom Evans

    ReplyDelete
  19. We may not need it , Tom, but it's nice to hear/ read it.

    ReplyDelete
  20. The lovely Anna of An Inch of Gray blog wrote about how after the death of her son her friends cooked and shopped for her including stocking one of those primo toilet paper brands instead of Anna's usual bargain basement choice. And thus how she was constantly reminded of her grief in the obvious moment. This is what I think of when I think of toilet paper. It has made me very careful when I stock a shiva house.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I don't think you're an apologist for Rahm at all. Your one line on topic is more truthful than anyone else has offered.

    ReplyDelete