Despite troubled times, much of humanity, undaunted in its never-ending quest for knowledge remains entangled on the horns of a dilemma. It is a vexing question that has previously been tackled at great length by such noble institutions as the New Scientist1, the Danish Society of Engineers and legendary advice-columnist Ann Landers, and has been cited as a cause of social tension and marital strife, cracking families right down the middle.
How Should You Hang A Roll of Toilet Paper?
Thus indeed. Although this is not a question of the physical mechanics of hanging the roll, but is rather a question of what constitutes a roll well-hung2.
A toilet-paper hanger essentially consists of pair of horizontal brackets protruding perpendicularly from the plane of a wall, between which a cylindrical spindle can be fixed such that its axis is parallel to both the aforementioned wall and the floor.
So, should a roll of toilet paper be hung so that the loose flap falls juxtapositioned with the wall itself, or should it be the other way around so that the loose flap is set apart from the wall by at least the diameter of the roll?
It is a debate which elicits enormous response, often citing toilet-paper texture, composition, weight and thickness, as well as other perhaps more earthy considerations such as hygiene and practicality, not to mention phallic symbolism and anal retention. Aye, there's the rub.
Further, it is an issue so close the hearts and minds of some that they will actually turn a roll perceived to be hung wrongly, even when visiting the homes of others, to ensure compliance with their own specification.
The Case for "Under"
Evidently bourgeois lavatorial etiquette vis-a-vis sanitary stationery demands that a toilet-roll is hung 'under', i.e., with the flap 'wallside', if one does not wish to betray one's lower-class roots. In a working-class home the paper hangs into the room, although which room is not always clear ... the dining-room perchance?
And since blue-bloods most certainly would not sully their hands hanging their own toilet rolls, if indeed they'd stoop to wipe their own precious derrieres at all, this assertion would not be inconsistent with the fact that cat-owners, a great many of whom are most assuredly middle-class, adopt the under-hang arrangement "because cats are inclined to stand on the bog-seat and scratch (as cats do) at the roll ... if the paper goes over the top, said bog-roll is soon in a pile on the floor." Cats, it seems, cannot have the same fun with a back-roller.
Practically though, there are some sound reasons for under-rolling. In the first instance, taking advantage of the friction generated between the wall and the roll, pulling off the next sheet from the back-side should be marginally easier. Moreover, under-hanging is shown to afford the opportunity to take the paper with one hand, when, for example, changing a baby's nappy on the bathroom floor This manoeuvre is undertaken by grasping the loose end in hand, the back of which is placed firmly against the roll to stop the roll from turning, whence the next sheet of paper can be torn off.
The Case for "Over"
The key reason cited for over-hangers, i.e., those who choose to hang the roll with the flap into the room, is hygiene-based. By 'overing', one ends up touching (with the wiping hand) fewer squares of paper that the next person will have to use, which does seem somehow more hygienic, if not entirely nauseating. Reaching behind or under the roll is evidently more likely to bring the wiping hand into contact with the roll. Yuk.
Moreover, consider the tropical rain-forest condensation that can gather on bathroom walls. A back-hung roll’s flap tends to adhere to the wall - the major disadvantage of which is that the wetting destroys the integrity of the paper, typically failing catastrophically at the moment of truth.
Perhaps less convincing is the long-documented phallic symbolism of how 'overhung' is well-hung, evidently attempting to correlate the appearance of the flap hanging down in front of the roll with a piece of meat in front of its associated scrotal two 'veg'.
The Case for "Not At All"
Then, aside from those who choose not to bother with toilet-paper at all, there are, in the first instance, those who don't hang their roll, but rather place it somewhere, typically axially vertically to guard against rolling. Whilst this may be a suitable compromise between the overhangers and the underhangers, there is always the danger that the roll will topple off its perch and end up in the bath or the toilet bowl, or worse, out of the room and into the office.
The advent of theft as an apparently valid way of making ends meet has precipitated the lockaway toilet roll (in public lavatories rather than the home – things haven’t become that dire yet). These range from a single roll in a single slotted petty-cash tin, postbox-style, bolted to the wall; through a condom-dispenser shaped device which contains a bunch of rolls stacked vertically; to a bumper cartwheel-sized roll. In many instances the rolls are not to be classified under or over, but clockwise or anti-clockwise.
The issue is further complicated by the ‘value’ roll, supermarket budget toilet-paper whose association with its tubular cardboard hub is merely passing, and the unravelled result is patisserie.
Additionally then, there are the ‘Izal’ users, meaning those who prefer to use individually-packaged cheese-slice reminiscent flat-sheets, rather than rolls thereof. ‘Izal’ is3 a proprietary brand-name for the same, whose grease-proof (and apparently some will argue poo-proof) monogrammed medicated sheets were packaged in a small flat tissue-box. Indeed, ‘Izal’ itself is enough to spark controversy over how to orientate the box. In this instance, however, ‘Izal’ is used in the generic sense to represent any flat sheets of paper, such as a newspaper of choice. To this end, members of 'older' generations have even shown a proclivity towards unravelling of the roll of toilet-paper, disassembling it into its constituent sheets and hanging them on a string via a hole drilled into one corner, perhaps providing an eerie insight into days (of rationing) gone by.
Concluding Statement – The End Of The Paperwork
"Why on earth do women always put it on the wrong way round?"
The various empiric research certainly indicates a posteriori that chromosomics may be at work, and that some gender-correlation may be evident in this conundrum. Whereas XY-humans (men) have a prima facie predilection to hang the roll loose-leaf outwards, XX-humans (women) are more inclined to the contrary practice wherein the wall and the loose-leaf are immediately juxtapositioned.
Currently, there is no explanation for this effect. However, it is suggested that women may be more inclined to the neatness and tidiness that maybe construed as middle-class aspiration, and that, moreover, women are more likely to be either caring cat-owners or nappy-changers.
Notably, and perhaps confusingly, hotels are found to both overhang and underhang; furthermore pleating the down-hanging flap into a kind of inverted bishop’s mitre arrangement4, not dissimilar to origami-esque table-napkin folding, perhaps as a gesture to demonstrate to the guest that they are the first to use the roll. “Pull here, you slob.”
In the end, however, the bottom line is that "the most important thing is that the paper is there when you need it."