The Origin of Trash And Other Rubbish Words
English has often been described as a magpie language, picking up the shiniest words from Latin, German, French and many others to form the wonderful if hard-to-pronounce language we use today. But it’s easy to forget that, along with all the gems such as schadenfreude and deja vu, English has been picking up trash, junk, rubbish and the like. Here at Junk2Go, we’re pretty preoccupied with the topic of waste, so you’ll be pleased to learn that we’ve unearthed the roots of today’s most common rubbish words, not to mention a neglected Australasian alternative.
Trash, a word which today conjures colourful images of empty chip packets and crushed cans, began life amongst the Vikings as the Old Norse word tros, which meant twigs or leaves which had dropped to the forest floor. Trash has gone on to feature in the popular proverb, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, which understandably replaced the earlier, less appetising alternative, “One man’s meat is another man’s poison”. Waste, on the other hand, has Latin roots, coming from the vastum, meaning empty or desolate. Much like trash, the word originally had associations with nature, as it referred to land where nothing could be grown, or wastelands. It wasn’t until the 13th Century that the word began to take on its rubbish meaning. The old adage “waste not, want not” first appeared in 1772, but several centuries earlier the less concise “willful waste makes woeful want” was already in circulation.
Then of course there’s our favourite, junk. Junk may also have natural origins, as it bears a remarkable resemblance to the Old French word junc, meaning reeds or rushes. What we know for certain, however, is that junk in English was originally a nautical word, meaning old cable or rope which was cut into small pieces and used to fill joints, making ships watertight. Who said junk wasn’t useful?
Garbage, on the other hand, originally had a more gory meaning. Garbage is thought to have come into English through medieval Anglo-French cookery books. By the late 16th Century, it referred to the waste parts of an animal, such as the internal organs, head and feet, which were normally thrown away rather than consumed. Much like waste, and junk, garbage eventually became a generic word for junk. Since the 1950s, Australians have been shortening the term to garbo, and in the 1960s the term garbology was coined in order to give a name to social science research on waste. A scholar in this field is called a garbologist.
Although garbo never did catch on over here, there is one junk word we share with Australia which is in need of revival. Mullock, which has gone on to mean rubbish in every sense (you can even poke mullock at somebody if you want to mock them), harks back to New Zealand and Australia’s gold rush eras: mullock’s original meaning was rock which didn’t contain gold, or had already had its gold extracted.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide what to call it, but if trash pickup is what you’re looking for, then be sure to pick up the phone and call 0800 JUNK2GO today.