I recently remarked "I hate it when I accidentally touch a random moist paper towel in the trash.", at which point I questioned my usage of the term random in that instance.

There are good discussions of the term random here and here. But my question is in regard to how to more precisely communicate the meaning of random that I had intended. The best way I can think of to state it would be "of unknown origin", i.e.:

"I hate it when I accidentally touch a moist paper towel of unknown origin in the trash."

However this is awkward. Is there a shorter, but still precise, fashion to communicate this?

If there are multiple words/phrases that might fit this usage, I'd give preference to brevity without losing specificity. And note that I'm not asking for alternate ways to express arbitrary choices.

  • In colloquial speech, we say: some paper towel or some paper towel or other. /I hate it my hand brushes against some wet paper towel in the trash./ some wet paper towel does not imply you know its origin. But even if you did, wouldn't it still be icky?
    – Lambie
    Jan 8, 2017 at 18:22
  • In my experience random is not used colloquially in the way you suggest. I think you are just misusing it. Any evidence that it is often used that way, i.e., to mean of unknown origin?
    – Drew
    Jan 8, 2017 at 22:46
  • I think it means something like some undifferentiated or identityless (thing). Trash is reborn when it hits the bin and prior existences are lost to our awareness. Trash is an agglomeration, and the individual components of an agglomeration are nameless, but have class identities. I would say "[...] some random paper towel [...]". A is confusing the issue as a definite article.
    – Phil Sweet
    Jan 9, 2017 at 4:29
  • Regarding random as meaning identityless, a point not mentioned in the other questions you linked to: random functions as a detensifier with respect to the importance of identity. "I spilled my coffee when I hit some random pothole". (It's not about the pothole, it's about the spilled coffee).
    – Phil Sweet
    Jan 9, 2017 at 4:56
  • @Drew No, I've not searched for other instances, nor am I defending its use in that context. After all, that's not what I'm asking about here.
    – TTT
    Jan 9, 2017 at 5:21

2 Answers 2


A word similar in meaning to random but perhaps closer to the context in the example is stray.

"I hate it when I accidentally touch a stray moist paper towel in the trash."


stray adjective
8. scattered, random, or haphazard
⇒ a stray bullet grazed his thigh

Collins English Dictionary. Copyright © Harper Collins Publishers

  • 3
    I don't think that paper towels in the trash are stray. a stray bullet means the bullet did not reach its intended target. A stray paper towel would be one that didn't make it into the trash (waste bin).
    – Lambie
    Jan 8, 2017 at 18:24
  • I agree with @Lambie, the meaning conveyed by stray is distinct from what I'm looking for. It is at best no less vague than random.
    – TTT
    Jan 8, 2017 at 18:29
  • More than that, stray means wandering away from where it's supposed to be. Bullets, of course, ought to hit their targets. Trash ought to wait patiently in an appropriate recepticle.
    – The Nate
    Jan 10, 2017 at 10:04

if you wanted to be funny and colorful about it (I'm not sure if you're just trying to describe or to embue the strange useasyness of something unknown):



arcane ‎(comparative more arcane, superlative most arcane)

understood by only a few

obscure, mysterious

requiring secret or mysterious knowledge to understand. wiktionary.org

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