So WHAT rolls to the UK again?

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[h/t Ian Preston]


  1. Victor Mair said,

    October 3, 2015 @ 8:23 am

    Took me half a second to figure it out, but then I had to spend some time thinking about how fastidious and precious the New York Jets are. UK toilet paper not good enough for them, eh?

  2. Ken said,

    October 3, 2015 @ 8:40 am

    Ship has been a verb since at least 900 AD (OED) and roll a noun since the middle ages. Never had a spring roll?

    The headline made perfect sense to me but then I speak English English like wot the Beeb duz.

  3. Mark F said,

    October 3, 2015 @ 9:05 am

    Jet can also be a verb, and "ship toilet rolls" a noun, so there's a third parsing hidden in there.

  4. M.N. said,

    October 3, 2015 @ 9:50 am

    Also, isn't "toilet roll" usually a mass noun?

  5. Chris Waigl said,

    October 3, 2015 @ 10:50 am

    Not a mass noun for me.

    I correctly parsed it on first reading, but then puzzled about why they would want to branch out into import/export sales. It didn't occur to me that this might be for their own use.

  6. Guy said,

    October 3, 2015 @ 11:35 am

    I'm surprised to learn, on Google, that "toilet roll" is indeed a mass noun for some speakers. All such uses appear to be from the UK, and this sense is apparently synonymous with "toilet paper". I didn't find this sense in a very brief perusal of dictionaries, though, most only list one definition for the count noun sense. Are there people with the mass-noun use in other English-speaking countries? And is this use generally perceived as standard or regionally-marked or [fill in the blank]?

  7. Roger Lustig said,

    October 3, 2015 @ 12:20 pm

    Probably a mistake at the head office.

  8. Tim Morris said,

    October 3, 2015 @ 12:27 pm

    Easy: the Jets came over on a ship for this year's game at Wembley, and when they arrived in Southampton, the ship's toilet came loose and tumbled down the gangplank onto the dock.

  9. Levantine said,

    October 3, 2015 @ 2:04 pm

    Not linguistically pertinent, but do other Americans share this misconception about British loo roll? In my experience, the British stuff (particularly the quilted variety) is at least as thick as its American counterpart.

  10. Nathan said,

    October 3, 2015 @ 2:14 pm

    I'm one Yank who never before read the phrase "toilet roll", count or mass. And I've never heard that British t.p. differed from the American kind.

  11. Dan Lufkin said,

    October 3, 2015 @ 4:34 pm

    Roger Lustig reminds us obliquely that a ship's toilet is conventionally called a "head."

  12. Guy said,

    October 3, 2015 @ 5:06 pm

    Incidentally, this crash blossom is notable for being difficult to parse even in Standard English as opposed to headlinese. Most examples rely on the convention of omitting articles and copulas to produce difficulty or ambiguity. But the only issue with this one is that simple present tense "ship" would be unlikely in ordinary English.

  13. Victor Mair said,

    October 3, 2015 @ 5:34 pm

    I have heard Americans complain about the toilet paper of other countries for being:

    too brittle

    too narrow

    too thin

    too rough

    too harsh

    too slippery

    too small

    too little (in amount)


    etc., etc.

    but not for being too soft.

  14. Rodger C said,

    October 3, 2015 @ 6:01 pm

    I had no trouble parsing it, but I find that in the presence of "toilet rolls," I have to be very careful pronouncing "Jets ship."

  15. Tim Morris said,

    October 3, 2015 @ 7:35 pm

    British Rail toilet paper of 35 years ago was like 3-inch squares of onionskin typing paper. It was among my first experiences of England :)

  16. David Morris said,

    October 3, 2015 @ 7:58 pm

    Tim Morris (no relation, that I know of): You are not meant to oilet, you are meant to wipe it.

  17. Graeme said,

    October 3, 2015 @ 8:23 pm

    NFL in the UK will give a lot of Brits the Sh*ts

  18. Kivi Shapiro said,

    October 3, 2015 @ 8:37 pm

    "Toilet rolls" isn't part of my usual lexicon, but the photo primed me so strongly for the correct reading that not only did I not notice a problem with it but I had trouble finding the alternate reading that Mr. Harrington points out. Communication isn't just about words.

  19. Eric P Smith said,

    October 3, 2015 @ 9:00 pm

    Like Guy, I'm surprised to learn that “toilet roll” is a mass noun for some speakers. I'm British (Scottish, but I don't think there's any difference between Scotland and England here) and the only use of “toilet roll” known to me is as a count noun for a cylindrical roll of toilet paper. Plural toilet rolls.

  20. Levantine said,

    October 3, 2015 @ 10:20 pm

    Tim Morris, that's the infamous institutional toilet paper that we Brits had to put up with at school (I'm not sure if they've phased it out or not). It always reminded me of tracing paper, and because it absorbed nothing, it was beyond ineffective.

  21. Levantine said,

    October 3, 2015 @ 10:29 pm

    Oh, and a data point: I'm a Londoner, and I would use "loo roll" as a mass noun in the same way I would "toilet paper".

  22. ryanwc said,

    October 4, 2015 @ 12:08 am

    Pondering whether loo roll is a mass noun has me bopping: you'll never find, bom-bom-bom-bom, another love like mine dah-dah-dah-da.

    I'm glad it's a mass noun.

  23. David Morris said,

    October 4, 2015 @ 3:15 am

    So do Americans not have toilet rolls, or do they call them something else? This Australian has toilet paper (uncountable) and toilet rolls (countable).

  24. DPickering said,

    October 4, 2015 @ 3:56 am

    @David Morris
    In my US dialect I would say toilet paper, the stuff I use, which is found on toilet paper rolls.

  25. Peter said,

    October 4, 2015 @ 5:04 am

    For me (BrE), some roll compounds can be a mass noun, while others can’t; not sure I’ve ever noticed this before.

    We need more kitchen roll.
    We need more bog roll.
    ?We need more loo roll.
    *We need more toilet roll.

    On UK vs. US quality: the range available for home use has been fairly similar, but in public/institutional toilets, there is or was a difference, from my experience. In the UK, institutional toilet paper (and the cheapest home stuff) used to be very thin and unabsorbent, and occasionally still is; in the US it is rough, but thicker.

  26. Eric P Smith said,

    October 4, 2015 @ 8:20 am


    I (BrE) agree all four of your assessments. The curious contrast between "kitchen roll" (always non-count) and "toilet roll" (always count) occurred to me as soon as I had posted my last comment, and so I'm glad you've drawn attention to it.

  27. Victor Mair said,

    October 4, 2015 @ 8:22 am

    When I go shopping, I use a lot of abbreviations. Two of the most common are TP and PT. Those mean:

    Get more toilet paper.

    Get more paper towels.

    I only make such a notation on my shopping list when the rolls of TP and PT I have on hand are down to about two or three of each.

  28. Gregory Kusnick said,

    October 4, 2015 @ 11:55 am

    Does "loo roll" come in six-packs? If so, what are the six items called?

    Would one ever say "Hand me a roll of loo roll"?

  29. Ellen K. said,

    October 4, 2015 @ 12:00 pm

    @David Morris. I would usually say roll of toilet paper to refer to the particular object. Toilet paper roll works too. It would be very unusually to use that in the plural. Generally simply toilet paper. Toilet paper is the general term, roll is the units it comes in.

  30. Bruce said,

    October 4, 2015 @ 12:37 pm

    But … there's a picture of a roll of toilet paper right there in the clipping! How could anyone confuse the subject of the headline with an actual toilet?

  31. K Chang said,

    October 4, 2015 @ 12:40 pm

    I guess they don't advertise toilet paper "over there", eh? Do people just randomly hop into Tesco and grab whatever's on the shelf?

  32. Levantine said,

    October 4, 2015 @ 1:00 pm

    K Chang, what makes you say that? We have plenty of toilet-paper adverts in the UK. The brand Andrex is well known for its cute TV commercials featuring puppies.

    Gregory Kusnick, I would use "loo roll" in both ways: "We need some loo roll", but also "Could you pass me a loo roll from the cupboard?".

  33. MsH said,

    October 4, 2015 @ 4:39 pm

    For me too (Br.E with Australian influence) it can be a count noun when it refers to the rolls, at least if you are counting them ("there are two left") but can also be a mass noun referring to the substance so rolled. Last week I was in a situation where another lady said "argh can anyone pass me some loo roll under the door?" This made perfect sense to both of us. And, thinking about it, it would usually be a mass noun for me when talking about buying it ("get some loo roll" or "get a pack of loo roll"), because it comes in packs of four or six and in various sizes and qualities, and I don't really care how many there are, the rollness is just a delivery system.

  34. Rob Wilson said,

    October 5, 2015 @ 2:07 am

    Tim Morris and Levantine, the toilet paper with the qualities of tracing paper also featured in UK Government offices in the 60s (and might still do for all I know).
    It came with the rather sad message "Government Property" printed on each and every sheet.

  35. Cass said,

    October 5, 2015 @ 5:19 am

    Speaking of ambiguous headlines (tho not technically a crash blossom), I enjoyed this short headline on the front page of the BBC news site this morning: "More than 80 ambulances called to Sports Direct HQ".
    Good grief, I thought, what happened here? Of course, it turned out this was 80 ambulances over a period of two years. The longer headline on the article itself makes matters slightly but not completely clearer: "Sports Direct site 'called ambulances dozens of times'".

  36. richardelguru said,

    October 5, 2015 @ 6:05 am

    Tim Morris said,
    "British Rail toilet paper of 35 years ago was like 3-inch squares of onionskin typing paper. It was among my first experiences of England :)"
    I suspect (based on many years of rail travel) that BR and its decendants would probably prefer you not to use the (for want of a better word) facilities at all.
    'When the train is in the station/We encourage constipation./If the train can hold it so can you…'

  37. Victor Mair said,

    October 5, 2015 @ 6:33 am

    @Tim Morris, Levantine, and Rob Wilson

    I was at the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London) during 1968-69 and well remember those "Government Property" style loo sheets of tracing paper. Such an indignity each time you used them! They were tiny, slippery, and thin! I won't describe the bloody results.

  38. Vic said,

    October 5, 2015 @ 12:46 pm

    I did some consulting at The Times in the late 70's and remember the tracing paper rolls. The last thing I'd do before leaving the hotel each morning was to stuff a pocket with decent TP.

    Perhaps their rolls were government surplus, since it had the "government property" printing. In addition, every sheet said "now please wash your hands." I referred to that as adding insult to injury.

  39. Jan said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 6:20 am

    Production of the medicated IZAL lavatory paper ended in 2010. Rolls now fetch silly money on Ebay for those after a nostalgic comfort break.

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