Up the Butt, Brutus

Paging Bill O'Reilly.

Our guest columnist is Philippe Charlier, assistant professor in forensic medicine and anthropologist, University Hospital, Garches, France.

The first mention of toilet paper in the Western world comes from the 16th century, with a short description by the French novelist (and physician) François Rabelais arguing its ineffectiveness. China, however, had toilet paper in the 2nd century BC, and the Japanese used chuugi (20-25 cm wooden sticks) during the Nara period (8th century AD) for both external and internal cleaning of the anal canal.

Other cultures do not use toilet paper, partly because paper is often not easily available. Anal cleaning can be carried out in various ways according to local customs and climate, including with water (using a bidet, for example), leaves, grass, stones, corn cobs, animal furs, sticks, snow, seashells, and, lastly, hands.

During the Greco-Roman period, a sponge fixed to a stick (tersorium) was used to clean the buttocks after defecation; the sponge was then replaced in a bucket filled with salt water or vinegar water.

Toilet hygiene in the classical era [British Medical Journal]

Toilet Issue: Anthropologists Uncover All the Ways We’ve Wiped [Scientific American, via The Loop]

12 Comments

Well that’s infotainment. Makes such good small-talk.

“I say, duchess, you know why you mustn’t offer your left hand to a wog to shake? That’s the hand they use to wipe their bums so it’s considered an insult. Same as as it would be reaching into the communal plate of curry and chips. Which is why us lefties don’t get much to eat east of Cairo. I say, is that Maude Devonshire just fell down the stairs? Doesn’t she look a fright? I expect she’s worn herself out chasing after that beastly Italian. I don’t care what sort of tricks he can do with his tongue the chap’s not a gentleman.””

Peace Corps Guatemala: the locals used corn cobs, which littered the beach during my morning walks.

No wonder the Middle East hates the US.

I met some US American who insisted I learn to shake hands with my left hand because it was “The hand closest to the heart”. Whereas I was taught to shake with my right hand, to show I was not carrying a weapon. (TY Lord Baden-Powell)

Along with writing a book about farting, Ben Franklin was responsible for America’s toilet paper habit. His Almanacks provided a years worth of wiping and entertainment in the privy.

@jaycubed: I want to try to work the phrase “Along with writing a book about farting” into every conversation or press interview I might have next week. (Not that I have press interviews, but someone around here does and working the word “stinque” into his comments has become too easy so I’m throwing the gauntlet down.)

We had an outhouse when I was growing up. I can tell you what catalog pages feels like. Winter time? Gotta do it or use the 5 gallon can in the house dumped daily . The water in the wash basin got changed when dirty. Baths in galvanized steel tubs once or twice a week with water heated on the stove or over a fire outside.

Indian Country in the 70s.

The outhouses in Georgia (the country) were often stocked with old school lesson books. Valentine’s Day 2004 will always be special to me, because that was the day I, er, concluded my ablutions using a picture of Stalin.

@redmanlaw: Also Suffolk, VA in the early ’80s. Yep, yep, yep.

@flippin eck: Heh. We usually had tp but not always lime. :/

@redmanlaw: I bet catalog pages weren’t any slicker than what passed for toilet paper in public restrooms in Great Britain in the late sixties (and the catalog pages were probably thicker, a definite plus).

I was born in northern Indiana in 1942. My stepfather had many aunts and uncles, most of them living in the country rather than towns, and some of them still had outhouses rather than indoor flush toilets, even as late as the early 1950s, and northern Indiana is the more prosperous part of the state.
I’m sure lots of people in southern Indiana had outhouses then.

@lynnlightfoot: I can vouch for England in the late Seventies. I even saved some sheets to amaze my friends.

@flippin eck: Heh. We mostly repurposed those free Newsweeks. “Read ’em and sweep”, such as.

the roman method described was depicted in the HBO series Rome. one of the many great things about it.

@redmanlaw: I grew up the same way in the south in the late 50s and early 60s. by the 70s my parents had gotten the fancy inside stuff but I was already gone having left home 1969,
but we (mostly) used the outhouse all winter. burr. I loved telling that to my coworkers in LA just to see the look on their faces. few things strike an angeleno speechless. although I think many just didnt believe it.

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