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Harvard dialect study and TP'ing vs. rolling

A group of Harvard linguists has released a set of maps from their dialect study of American English. The study is based on self-reporting (you can register and take the survey yourself if you like) so I don't know what its scientific value is, but it's certainly interesting to poke around in. You can see maps for the pronunciation of classic shibboleths like aunt or creek, or less familiar ones like "the act of covering a house or area in front of a house with toilet paper".

Oddly, this last one shows a more clear-cut geographic distribution than any other map I browsed, with "rolling" being predominant from Louisiana to South Carolina, "tp'ing" or "toilet papering" most common elsewhere. I've never heard of "rolling" a house in my life. One more piece of evidence that Texas is not part of the South (praise "Bob"!).

language 2002.10.31 link


What a fascinating term, Prentiss!

Is the US full of people doing this thing with toilet paper? Why would anyone want to do that?

I think it's extraordinary you have not one, but lots of terms for this strange activity.

Mind you, I now remember that none of my American friends will believe that putting a live ferret down your trousers really is a competitive sport in parts of the North of England, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by toilet-papering....

mark [contact ARROBA otherlanguages PUNTO org] • 2002.10.31
Toilet papering is basically a way for high school kids to bond by doing something mean and unsightly to each others' houses and yards. Once the morning dew makes it damp the toilet paper is nearly impossible to remove.

Here's something amazing: a toilet papering bulletin board.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle ARROBA io PUNTO com] • 2002.10.31
I've always understood the word "rolling" to be associated with 1) a violent ceremony performed to initiate an individual or individuals as members into a gang, and 2) what one is doing when experiencing a Ecstasy induced high. Makes me wonder what terms are used for those things in the South.

Anna • 2002.11.01
In my west Houston neighborhood (circa 1979) the term was "wrapping" someone's house (though I'm sure others would have spelled it "rapping"). I was surprised to discover that the practice was meant to convey affection toward the victim; I'd previously lived in Ohio, where syrup was poured on top of the t.p., and where a hit (I forget what it was called) generally indicated antipathy...

Gabriel Suerte [gabriel ARROBA suerte PUNTO com] • 2002.11.02
Hey, Gabriel, long time no see! :-)

Yes, I heard "wrapping" growing up in Oklahoma as well. And the fully annotated Harvard map shows Houston to be a hotbed of "wrappers", which interestingly doesn't seem to show up much further west than Texas.

As for affection or antipathy, yes, I'm sure you're right, although the two can easily be sides of a single coin. Fortunately I never hit or got hit myself and so didn't have to figure that one out.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle ARROBA io PUNTO com] • 2002.11.02
And now we shall have self embarrassment: It never occurred to me that teepeeing was actually tp'ing. That's definitely the first time I've seen that in writing.


pat [pat ARROBA fieldmethods PUNTO net] • 2002.11.03
*ahem* Pardon, but I live in Texas and "rolling" or "T'ping" or whatever you want to call it happens EVERYWHERE in the U.S. I live here in Texas but was raised in Chicago, we called it rolling, wrapping, T'ping or just plain English - TOILET PAPERING SOMEONE'S HOUSE! What was the Texas comment for to begin with? So you don't like Bush, is that it? Totally confused about that, I mean do you not like Texas? Do you not like the fact that Texas is part of the South? I dunno, I guess I just always thought that since every state was part of the Union we were all NOW on the same side? Maybe not....

Pris [onlypristine ARROBA yahoo PUNTO com] • 2002.11.03
Hi, Pris. I'm not sure what you find confusing. I love Texas and have lived here all of my life, except for a few years in Oklahoma. You're right that I don't like Bush, but that has nothing to do with my comment.

Look again at the map. Most of the blue squares for "rolling" are across the South, from Louisiana eastward. Most of the red and green (for "tp'ing" and "toilet papering") are in other states. Texas has a mixture of red, green, purple (for "wrapping"), a couple of others, and very little blue. There's a clear relationship between geographical region and the terms used, and by this measure at least, Texas is not culturally part of the South.

I happen to believe that Texas differs culturally from the South in other ways too, and I personally prefer Texas. That's all I was saying. Thanks for stopping by.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle ARROBA io PUNTO com] • 2002.11.04
Definitely "wrapped" in the suburbs south of Houston where I grew up. And it wasn't always a hostile act: a lot of times the popular high school football players had their front yards wrapped, especially during the season. Not sure why, but I can report that our front yard stayed paper-free all four years!

bruce mccandless [bmccandless ARROBA longburner PUNTO com] • 2002.11.04
I looked over several maps and decided that they show people don't stay home anymore. There are southerners in the north and northerners in the south and both all over the west.

If the survey had been taken even fifty years ago I believe the colors would be more uniform geographically.

Look at Dave who says something like "Do you want to go with?" instead of "Do you want to go with me?" Of course, he is a Yankee. I never heard the expression until your sister married him.

By the way, I did not find my pronunciation of pecan (puh-con) which I thought was common where I grew up.

Dad [sriddle ARROBA flash PUNTO net] • 2002.11.14
I'm guessing that a map of people who know what "shibboleths" are (without looking it up) would have one dot on Austin, TX?


Larry [schultzl ARROBA ece PUNTO pdx PUNTO edu] • 2002.11.14
Dad, I'm sure you're right. I was surprised that the toilet papering map had such a clear difference between the North and the South. A wild guess as to why: kids get toilet papering terms from their peers, not from parents, teachers, TV or books, so it's harder for those terms to spread. And when teenagers do move from one region to another, they may be more likely than grownups to adopt the local lingo, especially for primarily teenage activities.

Larry, there are probably a few more "shibboleth" dots around than you think: not only linguists and language hobbyists but people who read their Bible would also know it. See Judges 12:6 (yes, I did have to look that up). Man -- who ever though I would be quoting Bible verses in my weblog?!

Prentiss Riddle [riddle ARROBA io PUNTO com] • 2002.11.14
I recall Larry Niven describing (in "Ringworld," I think) a future wherein teleportation booths provide for instant transportation between all major cities on Earth. The result is the "great melting pot" on a global scale -- the populations of all the cities are indistinguishable from one another in terms of aggregate appearance, language, etc.

Would such homogeneity be worth it if the result was an end to the culture-difference based conflicts that the world currently suffers from?

Larry [schultzl ARROBA ece PUNTO pdx PUNTO edu] • 2002.11.15
Hmm. That's a mighty big "if" -- there are plenty of conflicts which are driven by factors other than cultural differences. Conflicts between regions over control of resources, for instance, or within regions over economic disparity. Plus, I think your melting pot model overlooks people's ability to create divisions out of thin air. Just think about rival groups of football fans, or rival street gangs, or rival European countries or "ethnic" groups who are pretty much just mirror images of one another. The genocide in Rwanda happened in the most culturally united country in Africa; the division between Hutus and Tutsis was based on 19th-century colonial pseudoscience rather than an actual cultural gap. Even Hitler, for all of his talk about German superiority, killed countless people who were thoroughly German because he didn't like their politics or their sexual orientation or their grandparents' religion.

But granting your premise for the sake of argument, I'm not sure it would be worth it. I'm a great believer in diversity as a good in its own right. If the whole world became one homogeneous sprawl of people with the same average tan skin, Brussels/Singapore-accented International Standard English, uniform viewing and listening habits, identical middle-of-the-road political and philosophical beliefs, etc., I think it would be very sad. A certain amount of conflict might be better than dumbing us down as a species to the limited range of ideas that can fit into one cultural standard. (Not to mention that cultures which get too far out of tune with local geography seem to be ecologically unsustainable.)

Prentiss Riddle [riddle ARROBA io PUNTO com] • 2002.11.15
Firstly, I agree substantially with your second paragraph -- it wouldn't be worth it.

But as for the world's current and recent serious conflicts -- I think a unified culture would make a big difference. To start with you eliminate conflicts like the struggle between capitialist and communist states, or between "the Great Satan" and the Islamic fundamentalist cultures.

It strikes me that the other types of conflict that you mention all stem from a lack of respect for people in favor of self-interest. Our hypothetical unified culture would have to be based on something. If it were based on the right principles some of those other conflicts would diminish as well.

But I've wandered from TP-ing to Utopia, haven't I?

BTW, Craig Stunkel says it as in "set," he says.

Larry [schultzl ARROBA ece PUNTO pdx PUNTO edu] • 2002.11.15
Ah, does that link to UUA principles mean that you've become a Unitarian? I don't know whether we ever talked about it back then, but my folks were Unitarians and we were nominally members of the fellowship in Stillwater although we rarely attended. History is now repeating itself in my family, as we joined First Church in Austin last year but hardly ever go.

If you could get countries (and other similarly powerful entities such as corporations) to follow sets of principles like those, you'd go a long way toward avoiding conflict whether you had one culture or many. And no, it wouldn't have to be one agreed-upon set of principles as long as some basic respect others was its central point. (It's been claimed that all religions preach the Golden Rule, but in practice they all seem to break it.)

Unfortunately, I think self-interest is the norm in matters of international policy; different regimes vary primarily in how much they pretty it up with rhetoric and how narrowly and short-sightedly they define their interests.

(At this point some Ayn Rander will intrude and claim that Utopia is all about self-interest. Sigh.)

"From TP to Utopia" -- isn't that the name of a movie? :-)

Prentiss Riddle [riddle ARROBA io PUNTO com] • 2002.11.15
I was just wondering if 'Barbituate' was an acceptable variant for 'Barbiturate'. The map has almost uniform result.

sandybutt [sandybutt ARROBA hotmail PUNTO com] • 2002.11.18
Their map for "barbiturate" is an interesting one. You're right that it seemed to show little geographic correlation. (Although I wish they provided a numerical measure of correlation since I don't trust my eyes to always estimate it correctly.)

What's odd is that >70% of their respondents pronounce it "barbituate" with only one "r" (as do I), but my American Heritage Dictionary doesn't even show that as a possibility. It's the same at the online Merriam-Webster. Modern dictionaries are usually pretty good about reflecting what people actually say instead of what language conservatives think they should say, yet the four or five alternate pronunciations they offer all include the second "r" in "barbiturate". I wonder what's going on here?

Prentiss Riddle [riddle ARROBA io PUNTO com] • 2002.11.18
TPing is awesome. You people are just too smart to do this kind of stuff. You probably grew up to fast. AND NO, it has nothing to do with ecstacy or gangs, I mean, I go to a Christian school and we TP the principle!!! Of all people...

britt • 2004.06.28
People seriously if you have wrapped a house before you will never understand it. Sure i can undertand how people might be showing affection towards their victim however it's just a lot of fun. It doesn't matter how old you are, just give it a try with a couple of friends. After you try it you will be asking for more.

James M [James punkto Meschede cxe gmail punkto com] • 2005.08.23
Im 24 yrs old from Crosby Texas just outside of houston. Me ,my brother,my wife, and about five other friends started wrapping houses about amonth ago. We (the redneck mafia) have radio's, cell phones, camoflague, and other acessories. As you can tell there is not much to do in Crosby, so i blow 50$ a week on Charmin double roll(its harder to get out) and wrap peoples houses that piss us off. We usually use 75 to 100 rolls a house. We use CAUTION tape around the property line as our signature. It beats sittin at the house watchin Americas most wanted on a saturday night.

robert meschede [shannon1823 cxe sbcglobal punkto net punkto com] • 2005.08.23
People seriously if you have wrapped a house before you will never understand it. Sure i can undertand how people might be showing affection towards their victim however it's just a lot of fun. It doesn't matter how old you are, just give it a try with a couple of friends. After you try it you will be asking for more.

James M [James punkto Meschede cxe gmail punkto com] • 2005.08.23
I live in Houston, and I have never wrapped a house because I am not allowed to. However, I do plan wraps. In fact, my "clan" (not the KKK), uses me as the blueprint guy. I take a picture of the house, plan where the toilet paper goes, and Decide what other accesories ex. eggs to use

Jack [the4thskoot cxe aol punkto com] • 2005.09.06
Listing i live in benicia CA, and we call it tping...but i'm doing a report on it and it seems like u guys know alot about the any chance do u know the history? who started it?

Matt G [minimatt254 cxe aol punkto com] • 2005.09.28
I live in Atlanta GA and have always known this event, which I've performed many times in my past, to be called "rolling" as the map suggest.

The reason for "rolling" was because we'd do it in the middle of the day while the subject was home. Each roll you used was left on the door step for bragging rights. The more rolls used without getting caught, the better "roller" you were.

Doug • 2006.07.21
Dang I grew up in upstate NY and always called it rolling. Or papering.
Now tipping was fun too. But alas! Outhouses just aren't that easy to find any more. At least not ones still being used everyday! LOL

Echo • 2006.07.23
why wouldnt n e one want to tee pee each other ? its a fun somewhat inocent prank to pull on your friends. it happens all the time in the chicagoland area. (where i am). i also have never heard of rolling a house before . the fun isnt even just teepeeing part you also can egg,sillystring,soap the windows,put flour or rice on the lawn , put rubberbands on the driveway. all different things that take alot of effort to clean up. rubberbands arnt able to be swept off of a flat surface and soap takes hours of rincing off of glass. and another thing most ppl do it in revenge.

cal • 2006.09.06
AAAA TPING, I love it... I just did a house last weekend. I'm 32, I brought my 14 year old, his two friends and my 8 year old out at Midnight to tp one of their friends houses. There is nothing more fun and innocent than TPing someones house. If I passed by someone tping I think I would jump out and help, it's that much fun. If you cant understand the humor in it, I suggest you try it.... Have fun...

Kale [sweedfarmer cxe yahoo punkto com] • 2006.10.26
Check out this Google video on "The Art of TPing or How to Gift Wrap a House"

The Art of TPing

Anonymous • 2006.12.20
I used to TP when I was young, and in fact ended up making a movie about it! As a high school english project, we were to get together in groups and make a movie (we'd been studying filmmaking). Well, our group decided to tackle a subject we knew well - TPing! The result was "The Art of TPing, or How to Gift Wrap a House," which received an A-. The minus was for a crude little joke in the movie, which you will see if you view it, now on Google Videos! (Link provided.)

It was originally shot on 8mm in 1971, and we recently digitized it. Check it out!

James [cpn cxe calweb punkto com] • 2006.12.20
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