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The Straight Dope

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Why does head hair (as well as beard hair, I think) grow indefinitely, whereas hair on the rest of the human body grows to a certain length and then stops? --Kim Mattingly, Washington, D.C.

Foolish creature, what makes you think scalp hair grows indefinitely? Didn't you ever listen to the title song from Hair ("Don't never have to cut it 'cuz it stops by itself")? Each scalp and beard hair grows two to six years before stopping, attaining a typical maximum length of two to three feet. Then it becomes dormant for about three months, whereupon a new hair starts growing and pushes the old one out of the follicle from behind. That's why even someone who's not balding loses 70 to 100 head hairs a day. By comparison, the growth cycle for other body hair is only a few weeks.

Maximum scalp-hair length varies greatly among individuals. The all-time champ had 10 1/4 feet, although Diane Witte of Worcester, Massachusetts, is said to be closing in fast. Diane, whose hair grows at the prodigious rate of a half-inch per month, had 10 1/2 feet as of 1988 and by now may have broken the record. Cecil has been attempting to contact Ms. Witte, in hopes of being there for the historic finale, but thus far she has managed to elude me. No problem. I'm sure it'll turn up soon on Wide World of Sports.

TP MAILBAG

Finally someone asked about the right way to roll toilet paper [May 26]! About three years ago, while working at a hospital in the New Orleans area, a group of us took a poll on this question. We found staff members from the north loaded the toilet roll so the sheets went over the top, whereas staff members from the south loaded it so they came out from under. How can we explain this? Also, what are your reference sources for this question? --Paula Dyan, Falls Church, Virginia

So this is how the nation's hospital staffers spend their time, huh? No wonder nobody comes when you push that damn button. As for my sources, get real--Cecil just knows. However, if it's corroboration you want, I am pleased to pass along the following note from Arthur Myers of Matteson, Illinois. Arthur appends the initials "RS" to his name, RS, of course, standing for "registered sanitarian." Sanitarians evidently have spent many hours pondering the question of toilet paper orientation. Arthur writes:

"The reason for positioning toilet paper and paper towels on the roll so it comes out over the top is for health purposes. Soiled fingers pushing the roll, when paper comes out from down under, will contaminate the outside paper surfaces which in turn will transfer the contamination onto the wall or fixture surfaces. Especially bad is toilet paper which is porous and can soil the fingers when used. Subsequent paper coming in contact with such surfaces will transfer the contamination back to the fingers. I hope this explanation will satisfy your readers."

Arthur obviously doesn't know my readers. Also, much as I hate to pick fights with an ally, his explanation is no miracle of clarity. I think what he's saying is that most of us have such revolting sanitary habits that we can't be trusted not to daub you-know-what on the wall while reaching for the TP. Furthermore, if we use some sleazy absorbent brand such as Charmin, we'll accidentally wipe the stuff off the wall and back onto our fingers, thereby making a complete mess out of everything. I've never noticed this in my neck of the woods, but believe me, next time I'm on the road, no way I'm using the rest rooms in Matteson. Re the north-south dichotomy, all I can conclude is that people in the south are more hygienic to start with. Or else they like the idea of . . . but let's not even consider it.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

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