Thursday, August 11, 2016

Our Lady of the Garbage

Our Lady of the Garbage

A photo by friend & fellow blogger, Kevin Keelan inspired this post. Kevin’s essays, poems, photographs & the occasional rant can be found at KPKWorld – The Last Creative Iconoclast.

The photo inspires a lot of thoughts. The thought tree up which I’ll bark for this post, though is the word garbage.

Garbage entered English in the 1580s meaning waste parts of an animal used for human consumption – a definition that admittedly argues with itself. Somehow over time we’ve lost the Middle English verb garbelage, meaning to remove waste. When the trash must be taken out, I know many parents of teens who would take great joy in looking their teens in the eye and saying simply, “Garbelage.” Though the roots of garbage are officially unknown. Some etymologists argue it may have come from an Old French word meaning a bundle of wheat, garbe or jarbe. Other etymologists suggest garbage may have come from Anglo-French and may somehow have been influenced by the word garble.

The word waste is related to the word vast. Waste came to English through Anglo-French from Latin about 1200, meaning desolate regions. About 1400, waste picked up the meaning excess material. Waste paper was born in the 1580s and waste basket in the 1850s.

Litter showed up in the 1300s from Anglo-French, meaning a bed-like vehicle carried on the shoulders. By the early 1400s the word was being applied to mattresses & the straw used to fill them. By the late 1400s the noun litter was applied to the straw in which an animal might give birth, & soon after came to refer to the new offspring of such an animal. By the 1800s, litter also referred to the straw & the waste in it after it had served as animal bedding, & by the 1700s litter grew to mean disorderly debris.

The noun refuse came from Old French meaning a rejected thing. It was born of the verb refuse, as one might reject, disregard or avoid a rejected thing like refuse.

Rubbish also came from Anglo-French, meaning worthless material. It showed up in English in 1400 & is most likely related to the word rubble.

The noun trash came to English in the 1400s, meaning thing(s) of little use. It appears to have come from a Scandinavian source. By 1604 trash’s figurative life was born & folks started using the word to disparage groups of people. The term trashcan showed up in 1914, the verb trash, to destroy or vandalize, appeared in 1970, & the term trash-talk was born in 1989.

If you’d like to see more of Kevin’s work, please spend some time at KPKWorld  or read his thoughts about Ireland (& litter). If you’ve got something to say about all this etymological rubbish I’ve just thrown at you, please leave a note in the comments section.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: KPKWorld, Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster, & the OED.


  1. Charlie, you really should write a book from this fascinating (and today's funny titled), blog. I think it would be a hit with all ages. Great job! What about for a title: "Our Lady of the Garbage: And other Words and their Orgins". Hmmm?

  2. Ahoy Jean Ann - how great to have you stop by. I appreciate the suggestion, & I have a great time with these weekly posts, but when it comes to book-length work, I must admit my heart is in fiction. May life be good to you.

  3. I missed this last week and I just love Notre Dame du Garbage. And Garbelage is a fabulous word. It needs to be revived!