toilet talk

Peter A. McGraw pmcgraw at LINFIELD.EDU
Tue Jun 6 21:41:41 UTC 2000

I can't believe I'm joining this thread, which is becoming more amusing
every minute, but I have to second Benjamin's interpretation.  I would find
it highly irregular (?) to be addressed by my neighbor under those
circumstances, and especially odd to be asked for the newspaper, but that's
still how I would interpret "the paper" in that or any other context where
there hadn't been prior conversation that unambiguously identified which
kind of paper was being discussed.


P.S.  This does NOT mean, however, that I think anybody in that Berlin
crowd thought JFK was claiming relatives in the doughnut family.

--On Tue, Jun 6, 2000 1:56 PM -0700 Benjamin Barrett <gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM>

> Good point. I would ignore the person in the next stall. My
> *interpretation* would be that he was asking for a newspaper. If it were
> the dorm, I would hand over the sports section.
> I would probably assume that the person in the stall next to me *heard* me
> turning the paper.
> Benjamin Barrett
> gogaku at
> BTW, when I said "non-English," I meant non-native.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf Of
> RonButters at AOL.COM
> Well, gee, my sense is that men in adjoining stalls do not ask each other
> for
> ANYTHING unless absolutely necessary--that there is a sort of taboo
> against speaking to strangers in public toilets (let alone making
> requests for reading material!). If somebody asked me, "Do you have the
> newspaper over there?" I would be stunned. Why would he think I had "the"
> newspaper in a public toilet?
> I grant you, if this were, say, a dormitory, where the inhabitants were
> more or less known to each other, that would be a different matter. But I
> said "strangers" and "public" toilet.
> In a message dated 6/6/2000 11:18:03 AM, gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM writes:
> << Although I agree with the thrust of your point, if someone in the next
> stall to ask me if I had the paper, I would assume he wanted the newspaper
> and I
> would hand him the sports section because I never read that part. If he
> had a non-English accent, I might reply with, "Do you mean toilet paper?"
> To me, asking, "Do you have any paper" requires "over there?" for it to be
> understood as toilet paper. >>

                               Peter A. McGraw
                   Linfield College   *   McMinnville, OR
                            pmcgraw at

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