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Only Useful as Toilet Paper

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George: You can't deny that this fine newspaper is good for the morale of the men!
Edmund: Certainly not. I just think that more could be achieved by giving them some real toilet-paper.
Blackadder Goes Forth

This trope is when literary writing is seen as such poor quality that it's only fit to be used as toilet paper or campfire tinder, (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 Extruded Book Product, Phony Degree, and Priceless Paperweight. See also Toilet Paper Substitute. May overlap with Useful Book, in very unfortunate cases.


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

    Comic Strips 
  • Pugad Baboy, at the end of the "Feminist" arc, Dagul is reading a book on how to deal with women. Debbie, resolving their issues throught the arc, puts away that book, saying that he doesn't need to do that, rips it and she considers the book as tinder.

    Fan Works 
  • In Touhou fandom, the Tengu reporter Aya is characterized as a Paparazzi whose newspaper is worthless as a source of news (but plenty of misinterpretations, rumors, gossip or embarassing truths), to the point where a common theme in fanart is people using the paper to wrap food, kill bugs, toilet paper, etc.

    Films — Animation 
  • Shrek: The Storybook Opening 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • Dances with Wolves: After Dunbar goes native, his journal is found by some illiterate soldiers and used for toilet paper.
  • The Day After Tomorrow: Some survivors are trapped in a library and need a fire to stave off the lethal cold. Although hesitant to burn books, they decide to start with the tax code as it's quite large and no one's going to miss it anyway.
  • Demolition Man: John Spartan can't figure out how to use the Three Seashells that have replaced toilet paper in the future. So he goes to have a little chat with a machine that dispenses citations for foul language.
  • Dunkirk starts with a group of British troops walking through a blizzard of German propaganda leaflets declaring "YOU ARE SURROUNDED". One of the soldiers grabs one and goes to find a place to take a dump.

  • The Belgariad: As part of her Obfuscating Stupidity act, Queen Layla subtly invokes this trope when she uses a draft treaty to wipe jam off the face of her youngest child. (The ambassador gets the message, but can't call her out on it.)
  • CHERUB: In one book, two CHERUBs on a training mission in the wilderness are given knapsacks filled with seemingly random supplies, including an apparently useless copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare, which they leave on the beach they were dropped off at. It's only later, in the jungle, that they realize the book was included with the intent for the pages to serve as toilet paper.
  • The Cosmic Computer, by H. Beam Piper: A banker comments that the local currency is even less useful: "Toilet paper can be used for something, and this paper money's too stiff."
  • Discworld:
    • It's indicated that the only book Cohen the Barbarian had ended up as toilet paper.
    • 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.
    • The Truth: The waste-management magnate Harry King considers William's newspaper useful for this reason — not only does he use it as toilet paper himself, he pulps it (and other "Low-Grade Paper Waste") into toilet paper for the rest of the city. In this case, however, he actually can't use the newspaper for its intended purpose because he Never Learned to Read.
  • The Royal Changeling by John Whitbourn: The hero's wife tells her eldest son to take a particular letter and place it where it will do the most good, i.e. in the privy.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: Inverted in 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.
  • In the Sven Hassel novels:
    • Tiny's mother ends up using the Your Fuhrer Thanks You card she got notifying her that one of her sons had died 'fighting bravely' for Nazi Germany. Not out of contempt but because nothing else was available. Her thoughts towards the Fuhrer were rather unpleasant given how hard and rough the card was.
    • This is the reaction of the men when they're parachuted a cargo container while starving in Stalingrad, only to find it only contains hundreds of photos of Der Fuhrer.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Blackadder Goes Forth has the "inspirational" magazine for the British troops, King and Country, that Blackadder calls "soft, strong and thoroughly absorbent."
  • Malcolm in the Middle: Referenced when Hal enlists uber-nerd Craig to help him pick out a comic book for Malcolm's birthday gift. He dismisses one the shopkeeper recommended by saying "I'd keep this in the bathroom... but not for reading."
  • 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.
  • Space: Above and Beyond: In at least one episode, a character takes 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.
  • Monsignor Renard: The title character is found with German propaganda leaflets on his person and is accused of being a subversive. He explains he kept them for toilet purposes. "It seemed appropriate."

  • The Navy Lark: Not toilet paper, but one episode 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 2,000 feet", prompting Admiral Ffontbittocks to declare that he'd never seen an airborne tugboat yet.

    Tabletop Games 


    Video Games 
  • Fallout: New Vegas: Referenced, should the Courier help Mr. House take over Hoover Dam. General Lee Oliver of the New California Republic is handed the order of withdrawal and is outraged at the demand they should withdraw their forces immediately even though they held the dam and intended to take it for the NCR. General Oliver finds these terms so unacceptable that he deems the order of withdrawal unfit to even wipe his ass with.
  • Super Paper Mario does this with an "Ancient Clue".
  • 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.

    Visual Novels 
  • Daughter for Dessert: Discussed in-universe. According to Heidi, the stories supposedly written by Kathy don’t actually have a good literary quality; they just play on the fantasies of the readers (she herself being one).


    Web Videos 
  • The Angry Video Game Nerd: In the video on the infamously awful Tiger Electronics LCD games, he states that "You might as well save that toilet paper, it's worth a whole lot more!"
  • Jacksfilms has a variant at the end of YIAY #389 during the promo for the new YIAY Book, when Jack's dad remarks that the book is garbage, but makes a good coaster for his glass.
  • The Spoony Experiment: Spoony needs to go to the bathroom after a lunch of several Taco Bell meals. The last scene of the video is him grabbing the Demolition Man licensed game, which sums up perfectly what he thinks of the game.

    Western Animation 
  • Animaniacs (1993): In "Scare Happy Slappy", after Skippy un-enthusiastically says a line of dialouge from the script, Slappy reminds him that scripts are only useful for lining birdcages and puts it in Tweety Bird's cage.
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy: In "Truth or Ed", Edd becomes the editor of the school's newspaper, and upon seeing an article about Jimmy baking a shortcake, Eddy says "I wouldn't line a birdcage with this bunk!".
  • 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.)
  • Futurama: In "Future Stock", Professor Farnsworth mentions that the stock of Planet Express is so cheap that it's literally not worth the paper it's printed on, so he gave it away to Dr. Zoidberg whenever he needed toilet paper. He mentions this right after The Reveal that this made Zoidberg the majority stockholder up until a few minutes ago when he sold the stock to "That Guy".
  • The Simpsons: In "Worst Episode Ever", Millhouse and Bart are running a comic book store. Millhouse is suckered into buying thousands of copies of Biclops, a comic book so crappy that birds won't even use it in their nests and can't even be used for smacking people.
  • Sonic Boom: A variant in "Chain Letter"; when Sonic complains to Tails, Knuckles, and Amy about Eggman messaging him non-stop as a result of agreeing to be his third friend on FriendSpace, Tails tells Sonic to ignore him, the way Meh Burger ignores their customer complaint forms. Dave overhears and 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.
  • Spongebob Squarepants: In the live-action segment of "Party Pooper Pants", Patchy the Pirate tried to invite Spongebob and Patrick to his party via invitation. The problem is that they can't read it because the ink smears underwater, so they threw it in the campfire. Underwater.

    Real Life 
  • The transience of news is recognised in the proverb: "Today's headline is tomorrow's fish&chip wrapper."
  • Subverted by Marvel Comics, who actually printed a short Spider-Man/The Incredible Hulk story on novelty toilet paper in 1979. Many years later, for April Fools' Day 2023, they republished it as a Webcomic.
  • 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.
  • During WWI in Tanzania, the isolated German colonial army used obsolete documents (maps, letters, etc.) as toilet paper. An eccentric British intelligence officer dug up their latrines to retrieve a wide variety of useful, if outdated, information.
  • Following the infamous "Pine Tar" incident involving George Brett using too much of the stuff on a bat, and Major League Baseball saying the "spirit" of the rule was not broken, then New York Yankees manager Billy Martin quipped "The Major League Baseball rulebook is only useful if you go out deer hunting and run out of toilet paper!"