In association with a couple of questions about unfamiliar expressions used in Jeffery Archers fiction, “The Fourth Estate,” I was amused by the phrase, “can’t wipe one’s ass if somebody didn’t hand paper,” appearing in the scene (Page 281) where one of the main characters, Dick Armstrong, British Army captain who rose from an illegal immigrant from the Czech in W.W. II and now controlling German newspapers published in British sector of Berlin bets with Max Sackville, American Army captain who controls German newspapers in American sector on Max’s capability of sacking Julius Hahn, the owner of Del Berliner, the largest German language newspaper in American sector.
“Julius Hahn claims he knows you.”
“Yeah, sure does,” said Max. “He’s responsible for bringing out the paper in this sector. Not that I ever read it.”
“He seems pretty successful,” said Armstrong, dealing another hand.
“Certainly is. But only thanks to me,” said Max.
“What do you mean’ because of you’?” Armstrong asked.
“He couldn’t even wipe his ass in the morning if I didn’t hand him the paper. I issue his monthly permit. I control his paper supply, I decide how much electricity he gets. I decide when it will be turned on and off.”
I understand the statement, “He couldn’t even wipe his ass in the morning if I didn’t hand him the paper,” is linked with Max’s control of paper supply to Julius Hahn, but I wonder whether “One can’t even wipe one’s ass” can be used as an idiom or stand-alone expression in English, or it’s merely a one-off play of word.
Incidentally, we have a Japanese word, ‘尻拭い- literally 'wipe one’s ass,’ which means to take one’s own or other’s responsibility in association of self-disposition of one’s discharge, e.g. We have to wipe our government’ ass - the national debts amounting to US$ 9 trillion being accumulated through their lax financial management over time.
Archer’s “Can wipe one’s ass” is ability to do a job, Japanese “Can wipe one’s ass” is ability to take responsibility. The same turn of word, but different meaning by language.