Created By: Jordan on April 17, 2011 Last Edited By: Pichu-kun on 20 hours ago

Only Useful As Toilet Paper

The writing's bad, but the paper it's on might be useful

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Trope
This trope is when literary writing is seen as such poor quality that it's only fit to be used as toilet paper (or similar undignified uses).

Sometimes it really is that bad, but a common variation is an illiterate or less cultured person using a book for toilet paper or kindling because he genuinely can't see any other use for it. In this version, don't be surprised if the book was a gift from an intellectual character.

This is often a comedy trope, but not always. Saying another person treats a given text like toilet paper can be serious, depending on how serious the text in question is. A politician who says a rival "may as well be wiping his rear with the Constitution" is asking for a fight.

If the text in question is real, there's often an element of Take That! present.

Before the availability of cheap purpose-made toilet paper, people commonly used old paper for wiping purposes. The rural outhouse with last year's mail-order catalog hanging next to the seat is Truth in Television, but not this trope because the catalog had value, it's just on its final cycle of usefulness.

Compare to Priceless Paperweight.


Examples

Anime and Manga
  • Implied in a joke from Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, showing a bookstore next to a pet store with the comment that you don't want to know where unsold manga ends up.

Film
  • The Storybook Opening of Shrek ends with the title character tearing off a page of the book. The next shot is him coming out of an outhouse, making the implication clear.
  • Dances with Wolves: After Dunbar goes native his journal is found by some illiterate soldiers and used for toilet paper.
  • Airheads: A disgruntled band is holding a radio station hostage, and one of their demands is a record contract. Once they get one, the leader realizes the terms are pretty poor and shows his displeasure by wiping his ass with the contract.

Literature
  • There's a couple of references to this in Discworld. It's indicated that the only book Cohen the Barbarian had ended up as toilet paper. Also, the Discworld Almanac indicates that the work, existing in-series is used as toilet paper by the people of Lancre- basically, they don't have a lot of use for a book recounting their superstitions and farming techniques.
  • In The Royal Changeling by John Whitbourn, the hero's wife tells her eldest son to take a particular letter and place it will it will do the most good, i.e. in the privy.
  • At one point in The Belgariad, Queen Layla subtly invokes this trope when she uses a treaty to wipe jam off the face of her youngest child. (The ambassador gets the message, but can't call her out on it.)

Live-Action Television
  • Space: Above and Beyond: In at least one episode, a character take a copy of Stars and Stripes (a US military newspaper) with him to the latrine, with a jokey tone strongly implying they're not planning to read it.
  • Salute Your Shorts: One episode has Sponge trying to hand out issues of his camp newspaper. Donkeylips asks for one, then blows his nose on it. Another episode has Deena signing (unwanted) autographs on anything handy after finding out she's gotten the lead in the camp's play, including Donkeylips' napkin. He just shrugs and blows his nose on it anyway.

Tabletop Games

Theater

Video Games
  • World of Warcraft: A quest in Theramore has you trying to discredit some dissidents undermining Lady Proudmoore with "creatively edited" versions of their flyers. One of the reactions you can get handing them out is that it might be useful in the latrine.

Web Comics

Western Animation
  • On Family Guy, Peter discovers that there's no toilet paper, but is then relieved that there are some Entertainment Weekly issues nearby. (At the time, Entertainment Weekly had Family Guy in its list of worse TV series of the year.)

Real Life
  • Rudolph Louis (music critic for the Muchner Neuste Nachrichten) wrote an uncomplimentary review of one of composer Max Reger's works. Reger wrote to Louis:
    I am sitting in the smallest room of my house. I have your review before me. In a moment it will be behind me.
  • Count Dmitry Khvostov self-published his poetry because publishing houses refused to. There's a Russian story claiming Ivan Krylov was once in dire need of something for wiping purposes while outside, and was "saved" when the count drove past with some copies of his latest book.

Community Feedback Replies: 83
  • April 17, 2011
    foxley
    In The Royal Changeling by John Whitbourn, the hero's wife tells her eldest son to take a particular letter and place it will it will do the most good, i.e. in the privy.
  • April 17, 2011
    neoYTPism
    Often done in jokes that make fun of religious texts, like "The Qur'an, now in 2 ply!"

    Alternatively, claiming that someone ELSE "treats a text as toilet paper" is used to say that someone else is not showing it much respect. (Ie. Statements like "that politician may as well be wiping his rear with the constitution with that attitude!")

    EDIT: Also, this could use a better title, if only because the current one sounds like it could be mistaken for "poetry about toilet paper." Granted, I don't have specific alternative suggestions right now.
  • April 18, 2011
    Arivne
    Truth In Television
    • Rudolph Louis (music critic for the Muchner Neuste Nachrichten) wrote an uncomplimentary review of one of composer Max Reger's works. Reger wrote to Louis:
    I am sitting in the smallest room of my house. I have your review before me. In a moment it will be behind me.
  • December 27, 2015
    zarpaulus
  • December 27, 2015
    DAN004
  • December 28, 2015
    Arivne
    • Examples section
      • Added a line separating the Description and Examples section.
      • Namespaced work names.
      • Alphabetized media sections.
  • December 28, 2015
    TonyG
    • The Storybook Opening of Shrek ends with the title character tearing off a page of the book. The next shot is him coming out of an outhouse, making the implication clear.
    • On Family Guy, Peter discovers that there's no toilet paper, but is then relieved that there are some Entertainment Weekly issues nearby. (At the time, Entertainment Weekly had Family Guy in its list of worse TV series of the year.)
  • December 28, 2015
    DAN004
    Who's gonna grab this? (hint: not me)
  • December 29, 2015
    Antigone3
    I'll take a shot at it.
  • December 29, 2015
    Antigone3
    Just wondering, would Old Man Henderson using a page from the Necronomicon as rolling paper be disrespectful enough for this trope?
  • December 30, 2015
    randomsurfer
    WTH? I gave an example but I'm not seeing my reply. Did I put it in the wrong YKTTW??

  • January 2, 2016
    Antigone3
    ^ Looks like you put it in Toilet Paper Substitute.
  • January 2, 2016
    Folamh3
    Webcomics
  • January 5, 2016
    randomsurfer
    ^Weblinks Are Not Examples. You need to explain context.
  • January 5, 2016
    Omeganian
    • There is a Russian anecdote that Ivan Krylov was once in desperate need of toilet paper while outside. Fortunately, Count Dmitry Khvostov just happened to pass nearby with a few printed copies of his new poem. Said count had a reputation for printing his own poetry with his own money and normally having to buy it himself from the bookshops. The servant assigned to the task allegedly made good money selling the books to wallpaper makers.
  • January 17, 2016
    DAN004
    Needs a laconic.
  • January 18, 2016
    Antigone3
    ^ Not terribly laconic, but it's what I could come up with off the top of my head.
  • February 26, 2016
    Antigone3
    Bumping
  • February 26, 2016
    Generality
    • Done in Airheads, in which a disgruntled band holds a radio station hostage. After receiving a record contract as per their main demand, the leader realizes the terms are pretty poor and shows his displeasure by wiping his ass with the contract.
  • February 26, 2016
    DAN004
    Is the title really clear, btw?
  • February 27, 2016
    Antigone3
    I'm open to renaming, but don't have any bright ideas right now.
  • February 27, 2016
    ZuTheSkunk
  • February 27, 2016
    DAN004
    ^ doesn't have to be toilet paper, you see.

    There's also the issue of whether this counts:
    • the quality of the poetry/drawing/etc itself
    • whether it is used for any disgracing use because of said bad quality, or regardless of quality (meaning that perfectly good poetry/drawing/etc may fall victim to this)
  • February 29, 2016
    justanotherrandomlurker
    With a name like this, this makes me think of something Frank Burns did a few times on MASH - writing love poems to Margaret on a roll of toilet paper. . . . but that was a gesture she always liked, this seems to be where the recipient of the poem doesn't care and still uses the toilet paper or whatever for their original intended use.
  • March 2, 2016
    StarSword
    TV:
    • At least one episode of Space Above And Beyond has a character take a copy of Stars and Stripes (a US military newspaper) with him to the latrine, with a jokey tone strongly implying they're not planning to read it.
  • August 22, 2016
    DAN004
    Bump
  • August 22, 2016
    Tallens
    • Salute Your Shorts: One episode has Sponge trying to hand out issues of his camp newspaper. Donkeylips asks for one, then blows his nose on it. Another episode has Deena signing (unwanted) autographs on anything handy after finding out she's gotten the lead in the camp's play, including Donkeylips' napkin. He just shrugs and blows his nose on it anyway.

    • World Of Warcraft: A quest in Theramore has you trying to discredit some dissidents undermining Lady Proudmoore with "creatively edited" versions of their flyers. One of the reactions you can get handing them out is that it might be useful in the latrine.
  • August 22, 2016
    AHI-3000
    Does that metaphoric joke about American politicians wiping their asses with the US Constitution count?
  • August 22, 2016
    Antigone3
    ^ Alluded to in the trope description.
  • August 23, 2016
    DAN004
    Does, say, someone making a papier mache out of important documents without knowing its contents count?
  • August 23, 2016
    zarpaulus
    Okay, how many tropes in development are there that involve using paper with writing on it to wipe your ass?

    Because I'm pretty sure we only need one
  • August 23, 2016
    DAN004
    ^ there's Toilet Paper Substitute (which might've been launched), but the focus is in doing it for emergency rather than to demean the substitute (and it's strictly for toilet paper cases while this draft isn't)
  • August 24, 2016
    zarpaulus
    ^ Sounds like a case of The Same But More Specific
  • August 24, 2016
    Someoneman
    Does this count? (Example should go in the Video Game section)

    • In Cataclysm, books can be read to train skills or boost morale, but they can also be disassembled for paper, which can then be used for crafting or lighting fires.
  • August 24, 2016
    zarpaulus
    There are several overlapping examples between this and "Toilet Paper Substitute" you know.

    Such as:
    • Demolition Man John Spartan shows frequent contempt for the overly-PC sanitized future he's been thawed out into. For instance, swearing out loud triggers an automated device to print out a ticket, and instead of toilet paper they use "three seashells". When Spartan has to go #2 he unleashes a cluster F-Bomb and takes the wadded up tickets with him into the bathroom.
  • August 24, 2016
    Berrenta
    Toilet Paper Substitute can be a sister trope; both involve using something else as toilet paper, though one involves emergencies, the other involves distaste in the paper's contents. Should be different enough, though overlap is possible.

    Thinking of a rewrite for the SMBC example, so we won't have a case of Weblinks Are Not Examples.
  • August 24, 2016
    Lawman592
    Could this proposed trope be expanded to include diplomas from educational institutions that are academically suspect?
  • August 25, 2016
    DAN004
    ^ you mean, those diploma papers being used as something undignified?

    And again, despite what the title said, it's not limited to being used as toilet paper.
  • August 25, 2016
    DAN004
    ^ you mean, those diploma papers being used as something undignified?

    And again, despite what the title said, it's not limited to being used as toilet paper.
  • August 31, 2016
    Lawman592
    ^ Yes, but the undignified use of the diploma can also be a comment about the educational institution's low academic standards or reputation as a diploma mill.
  • August 25, 2016
    JujuP
    Some currencies (see Funny Money) are told to be worth less than the paper on which they are printed on.
  • August 31, 2016
    Lawman592
    Compare with Phony Degree.
  • September 1, 2016
    TimG5
    In one episode of Camp Lazlo, the entire camp goes crazy because Lazlo got a certificate for getting 7th place in a contest. To make the other campers feel better about themselves, he uses all the toilet paper in camp to make made up awards. It works...at first. Unfortunately, Samson, seeing no free toilet paper available, steals his cabin mates' awards to use for the bathroom which starts chain reaction of all the campers jacking their guts up to destroy everyone else's rewards. In the end, Lazlo comes to realization and tells an An Aesop about how the joy in accomplishment should come from the deed or quality and not a materialistic item used to denote it. He almost spoofs his moral when Edward asks him to hand over his award but then puts his money where his mouth his by letting Samson use it as a tissue.
  • September 2, 2016
    mightymewtron
    An episode of ''Suite Life On Deck'' jokes about this in the episode "Maddie On Deck" regarding Cody's souvenir scroll. (/but this troper can't for the life of her remember the exact joke!)
  • September 13, 2016
    WildKatGirl
    In the Casson Family Series Rose hates all books, and thinks that though someone stuck in a concrete might be grateful for a book, they would use the pages to make paper boats and planes if they had any imagination.
  • September 13, 2016
    ginsengaddict
    Futurama: Invoked by Hermes in regards to Planet Express' stock shares, and why he kept just giving them away to Zoidberg.
  • September 21, 2016
    Tallens
    Another from Wo W.

    • One quest in Redridge has you securing intelligence on the local Gnolls, taking their battle plans, orders, and strategy guide. The strategy guide says, "This document is blank. Correction. This document was recently used as toilet paper."
  • September 22, 2016
    TimG5
    OP hasn't posted or updated in ages. I'll give until tomorrow. If OP doesn't step in I am gonna update and launch myself. Those 16 hats are collecting dust.
  • September 22, 2016
    shadowbeast
    Literature: Cohen, in The Light Fantastic, is stated to use books as fuel on a cold night. He's said to think it's their primary purpose, and that it seems such a waste to him, writing in them. Live-action Television: Joked about when the school newspaper is distributed on an episode of Heartbreak High. Manga and Anime: The anime of Area 88 has an episode wherein a downed pilot is rescued after a night spent in the desert around an enemy wreck, which was carrying critical encrypted paperwork which could have provided the key by which the war could be won almost immediately and everyone freed from their contracts to go home.

    He couldn't understand the encryptions, and didn't recognise them as encrypted documents, so he burned them to keep warm. The other merc pilots fall on him, fists and feet flying.
  • September 22, 2016
    Larkmarn
    As is, this is way too similar for Toilet Paper Substitute. In fact, this entire YKTTW can be rendered moot just by adding a single line to that trope's description.

    That said, I think that expanding this to be "someone is considered so worthless that it's less valuable than its parts (Not Worth The Paper Its Printed On, for example) could be a viable trope, it would just need expanding and severe reworking.
  • September 22, 2016
    FuzzyBoots
    M.Y.T.H. Inc In Action has an attempted example where Guido and Nunzio, attempting to mismanage a supply depot, sends out Queen Hemlock propaganda leaflets when toilet paper is requested. It causes such a morale boost in the troops that the two get promoted.
  • September 22, 2016
    DAN004
    @ Tim G 5: make sure you change the title.
  • September 24, 2016
    Menarker
    Order of the Stick prequel book 'Start of Darkness' has a scene where Eugene, arrogant master illusionist wizard (and father of the story's protagonist Roy) meets up with a hooded individual who called him out to a bar so he can share details of the whereabouts and activities of Xykon, Eugene's personal nemesis. Hooded Figure: "You are Eugene Greenhilt, right? You didn't just intercept his mail?" Eugene: "You don't recognize me from the cover of 'Wizardry Today'? They did a profile on me just last month, called me, "The Master of Illusions". " Hooded Figure: "Yeah, strange as this may be to you, I don't really get a chance to read the wizard trade magazines." Eugene: "That's fine, I just so happen to carry a few copies around with me." *Handing a pair of magazines.* "Take it, read the articles if you need to head to the crapper." Hooded Figure: "How oddly appropriate."
  • October 8, 2016
    Tallens
    • Deepwater Horizon: When Don staggers onto the bridge after the explosion, he pulls a page from some technical checklist or safety manual and uses it to wipe the mud off his safety glasses.

    • Apollo Thirteen: When the crew needs to build a means to filter out the CO 2 building up in the LEM, Houston has them tear the cover off the flight plan, which Swigert does "with pleasure".
  • November 16, 2016
    AgProv
    • Related: Blackadder, where the illiterate Baldrick uses the only manuscript of Dr Johnson's dictionary as kindling to start a fire?
  • November 16, 2016
    AgProv
    Real Life
    • A WW 2 variant: originated in the RAF and taken up with vindictive glee by everyone else in Britain: a derisory comment about the more obstructive, unhelpful, irrelevant or just plain daft memos, directives, statements or government forms emanating from above was bumph - "bum fodder". Now archaic, this neologism passed into wider English usage.
  • January 25, 2017
    LukeSurl
    In Treasure Island Long John Silver's black spot is drawn on a ripped-out page from the Bible. Silver's first reaction is to point out the blasphemous implications.
  • January 26, 2017
    SteveMB
    Referenced in H Beam Piper's novel "The Cosmic Computer" one character notes that the virtually worthless local currency isn't even useful as toilet paper because it's too stiff.
  • January 26, 2017
    SteveMB
    (cut duplicate)
  • August 4, 2017
    Gnomidot
    Avgn needs to be on this list.
  • August 6, 2017
    Exxolon
    In issue #5 of Dice Man, Rick Fortune depending on your choices and active power can interact with a hack pulp crime novelist and says "No thanks, I have plenty of toilet paper" when offered a free autographed copy of his latest book. This doesn't go down well.
  • August 6, 2017
    Theriocephalus
    • Subnormality: One strip features the"No Bullshit Emporium", a store that sells objects that have been overhauled to show their true nature. The merchandise includes a magic eight ball that only answers "how the hell should I know?"¯, a clock with the numbers 3, 6, 9 and 12 replaced with "You're"¯, "Still", "Not"¯ and "Dead"... and the text of Dianetics printed on rolls of toilet paper.
      Customer: I see. So, for instance, if I were to ask if you have a copy of Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard, you'd say... Clerk: (Holds up two rolls of toilet paper) Regular or quilted?
  • September 5, 2017
    FlyingDuckManGenesis
    Western Animation
    • Variation in the Sonic Boom episode, "Chain Letter"; When Sonic complains to Tails, Knuckles, and Amy about Eggman messaging him non-stop after becoming his third friend on Friendspace, Tails tells Sonic to ignore him, the way Meh Burger ignores their customer complaint forms. Dave tells Tails that he isn't ignoring the complaint forms, but rather using them as a substitute if they run out of napkins. After Sonic squeezes his drink when Eggman messages him for the umpteenth time, Dave tells him that he'll need a two-ply to clean it up, and offers him many complaint forms from a single customer.
  • September 5, 2017
    foxley
    • Fangbone: In "The Twinkle of Stick", Fangbone is shown to have hung the letter announcing parent-teacher night beside his toilet hole.
  • September 5, 2017
    Snowy66
    Using badly written paper for other use is fair enough, but I'm not sure as toilet paper specifically would count as a trope.
  • September 6, 2017
    TonyG
    In a South Park short made for the MTV Movie Awards, the boys find themselves going through the Gauntlet from Gladiator, and Cartman is so scared he craps his pants. They are saved by the aliens from Battlefield Earth, who then hand them Scientology personality tests. Carman uses his to wipe himself.
  • November 29, 2017
    Pichu-kun
    Isn't this launch-worthy?
  • November 30, 2017
    BoukenDutch
    Invoked in Comicbook/Orphanimo: in the first album, in order to make it clear to Vallalkozo's representative that they don't intend to sell their house, the Orphans show him that they are using the contract he send them earlier as toilet paper.
  • November 30, 2017
    LB7979
    This would be better No Real Life Examples Please—could attract Flame Bait and Edit Wars.
  • December 6, 2017
    Chabal2
    • A Running Gag in Touhou doujins is that Aya (a tengu paparazza)'s newspaper is a tabloid devoid of informational value, but it's useful for other purposes (wrapping fish, starting fires, and yes, toilet paper), to Aya's dismay.
    • One Self Deprecating cartoon in the French newspaper Le Canard Enchainé showed a man distraught at hearing of the paper's possibly going out of business, as it was exactly the right size to use as lining for his cat's litter box.
  • December 6, 2017
    alnair20aug93
    I know that this was so early 2010s, but there had been some pictures of the Twilight saga labeled as "Emergency Toilet Paper". 1, 2
  • December 7, 2017
    StarSword
    There's a great example in The Day After Tomorrow. I'll write it up tonight after I've had time to research the names of the characters.
  • December 7, 2017
    lakingsif
    This isn't a trope. It's a joke. People make jokes all the time, but their occurrence in media without any other significance is both simply a Stock Phrase and PSOC.
  • December 7, 2017
    Exxolon
    Blackadder Goes Forth has the "inspirational" magazine for the British troops, King and Country, that Blackadder calls "'soft, strong and thoroughly absorbent."
  • December 7, 2017
    StarSword
    ^^And yet Stock Jokes is a thing.

    Film:
    • The Day After Tomorrow: When Sam Hall's group is waiting out the blizzard in the New York Public Library, they start going through the stacks for books they can burn for heat.
      Aaron: Friedrich Nietzsche. We cannot burn Friedrich Nietzshe, he was the 19th century's most important thinker.
      Elsa: Oh, please. Nietszche was a chauvinist pig who was in love with his sister!
      Aaron: He was not a chauvinist pig.
      Elsa: But he was in love with his sister.
      Brian: (hollering from downstairs) Hey! Guys! Uh, yeah, there's a whole section down here on tax law that we can burn!
  • December 7, 2017
    lakingsif
    None of the examples hold story significance, and there is no shared meaning between them. It's not a trope, it's a thing that can recur in media, like a pony in the background.
  • December 7, 2017
    lakingsif
    There's a difference between a Stock Joke (like, some narrative significance even if it's just 'this joke is done so much in certain situation that doing it elsewhere draws the implications and recognition') and a stock joke, which is effectively people make this joke in real life and so it's bound to crop up in multiple works, just like other common snippets of speech.
  • December 7, 2017
    StrixObscuro
    Magazines
    • One issue of Wizard had a writer attempting to track down the "elusive" artist Joe Madueira (who at the time had become notorious for not finishing Battle Chasers). The writer at one point stakes out Madueira's house, and describes having to go to the bathroom outdoors, but assures the reader that he was not lacking for toilet paper, as he had extra copies of John Byrne's Spider Man on hand.
  • December 8, 2017
    Tuckerscreator
    • Inverted in A Series Of Unfortunate Events - The Penultimate Peril. Seeking to convict greedy injustice causers, Jerome Squalor writes a book documenting the crimes he uncovered titled Odious Lusting After Finance. However, the greedy Count Olaf shows how little he cares about books when he uses it for kindling to start a hotel fire. He remarks that it's the only way it's useful, but the Lemony Narrator laments watching the words burn.
  • yesterday
    alnair20aug93
    If it's not used as toilet paper, the alternative would be used as tinder.
  • yesterday
    alnair20aug93
    I could also suggest for a redirect name: Only Useful As Tinder or Only Useful As Firewood
  • yesterday
    CrypticMirror
    Not toilet paper, but one episode of The Navy Lark reveals that most of the memos from London get treated as drinks coasters because the things they are declaring are so useless. One example given was that London decreed that "when approaching harbour, pilot vessels should fly at no less than 2,000ft", prompting Admiral Ffontbittocks to declare that he'd never seen an airborne tugboat yet.
  • 20 hours ago
    intastiel
    Another Discworld example:
    • Inverted in Carpe Jugulum with the beleaguered Reverend Mightily Oats, who spends the first half of the book defending his faith and his Book of Om against increasingly disparaging doubters, including a vampire who outright tosses it aside. In his loneliest, Darkest Hour, he uses the book as kindling... to light a fire for the grievously injured Granny Weatherwax, then reaffirms his faith and takes his first steps on becoming the most Badass Preacher on the Disc.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=v650hikj42x09rldkaluda3o