TT: Talking Trash

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering? Just page back one and offer your opinions on lists… Then come back and join me and Alan as we dig deeper into the gritty question of trash.

JANE: Last time you mentioned that when you and Robin did your “clear out” you took a lot of stuff to the “tip.” Based on the context, I guess that this is what we here would call a “dump.”

Waste Baskets

Waste Baskets

ALAN: I’m familiar with the noun “dump”, but only from American novels. We use the word as a verb rather than as a noun so we’d dump our rubbish at the tip. Curiously, we do use “dump” as a noun, but only if it is qualified with an adjective; so “rubbish dump” would be a perfectly acceptable phrase, where “dump” by itself would not. Of course, that would require us to “dump our rubbish at the rubbish dump” which is a technically accurate, but extraordinarily ugly sentence. Maybe that’s why we have the noun “tip,” so as to avoid such ugly constructions.
Mind you — “tip” can also be a verb. So I suppose I could tip my rubbish into the tip, if I felt like it. But that’s an ugly sentence as well.

JANE: I suspect – only suspect – that both “tip” and “dump” as nouns evolved from the verbs.

I think I prefer “dump” to “tip,” if for no other reason than the word always reminds me of a joke that, as a kid, I thought very funny. Are you familiar with the Lone Ranger as adapted for television and radio? Especially the theme song?

ALAN: Oh yes! The William Tell Overture. I have a record of Spike Jones gargling the tune. It’s hilarious and revolting at one and the same time. Anyway – tell me your Lone Ranger joke.

JANE: Right! Here goes…

Q: Where does the Lone Ranger take his trash?

A: (sung to the William Tell Overture): To the dump, to the dump, to the dump,dump, dump!

ALAN: Excuse me. I need to gargle so as to get the taste of that out of my mouth.
JANE: <giggle> This joke brings me around to another linguistic puzzle. You spoke of taking “rubbish” to the tip. Here, we’re more likely to use the words “garbage” or “trash.” There are even subtle differences in which would be used when.

ALAN: I never thought of rubbish as being a subtle concept. Please tell me; what are the nuances that separate these two words?

JANE: Again, remembering that American English has lots of regional variations and my definitions are based on being raised in Washington, D.C., by parents of Midwestern extraction, here are my definitions.

“Trash” seems to be more commonly applied to “dry” items like paper, plastics, cardboard, wood, stone, and the like. “Garbage” seems to imply either food items or items contaminated with food waste or other generally icky things. Therefore, a piece of paper is trash, but if you wrap a piece of chicken in the paper and the paper becomes soiled, then the paper becomes garbage.

I doubt there is a hard and fast rule, but it’s interesting to see these distinctions in application. The little containers used in offices or suchlike are called “trash baskets” or “waste baskets” or even “wastepaper baskets.” They are never called (to the best of my knowledge) “garbage baskets.”

ALAN: We call them wastepaper baskets as well, but rubbish bin is an equally acceptable term.

In recent years we’ve also started to make the distinction that you make between trash and garbage, though we don’t really have separate names for the different types of rubbish. It’s happened because of the growing emphasis on recycling things.

The city council now requires us to separate out all the recyclable stuff like cardboard and plastic and glass, and to that end, as a one off exercise, they distributed special bins to everyone for people to put the recyclable stuff in. Every place received one bin per title holder of the property. Mostly this worked, but there were some amusing edge cases. An enormous 500 bedroom luxury hotel ended up with only one tiny bin because there was only one name on the title deed. And a small 6 bedroom private hotel that was being used by a syndicate for tax avoidance purposes received 389 recycling bins, much to the consternation of the delivery man who couldn’t find anywhere to put them all.

JANE: That is amusing… However, you’ve generated another question. What is a “one off exercise”? To me this sounds as if you only had to use those recycling bins one time. Is this the case?

ALAN: The phrase certainly means “something that you do only once.” But in this case, it refers the actual distribution of the new rubbish bins to the households of the city, rather than to the use of the bins themselves.

JANE: Ah, hah! Now I understand.

ALAN: The distribution of the bins was very entertaining in its own right. A monster road train (a long multiply articulated vehicle) would roar down the street. Every so often it would stop and a team of men would jump off and deliver a bin to the front of each house. Since this was generally the most exciting (and noisiest) thing that had happened in the street for years, there were always large crowds of people, well-armed with mobile phones, to record the scene.

A newspaper story of the time tells of one of the bin delivery men who, for obscure reasons of his own, decided to steal a pedigree dog from the house he was delivering the bin to. Not unnaturally, the dog objected to being stolen and it wriggled and barked as the man dashed down the street with it clutched in his arms, running the gauntlet of iphones along the way. When the police turned up to arrest him, he expressed surprise. How had they tracked him down so quickly?

JANE: That was so funny I had to stop and read it to Jim. Real life is so much stranger than fiction, isn’t it! I wouldn’t dare put something as silly as that in one of my novels.

I actually want to come back to recycling, but I haven’t quite finished with garbage and trash… I even have another joke for you!

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5 Responses to “TT: Talking Trash”

  1. Heteromeles Says:

    Hmmm. I suspect this is why Americans haul trash to the dump, but we tend to dump trash in vacant lots rather than dumping at the dump, but we take a dump when we use the toilet. It’s all workarounds.

    Speaking of workarounds, US bureaucracies work on the management of solid and liquid wastes (effectively trash and sewage), rather than trying to get into the wilderness of trash, dumps, tips, bins, etc. Since a lot of our recyclables end up in places like China, something like “solid waste management” may be easier to translate than “tip management,” especially if we’re shipping recyclables down under…

  2. Heteromeles Says:

    It occurs to me to wonder about the use of “tip” outside the US. For example, does leaving a tip for a waiter doesn’t mean leaving trash on the table. Now I’m wondering how the Midwestern sport of cow-tipping sounds to Those Across the Waters. English is a trickier jungle than I thought it was.

  3. Paul Says:

    I wonder if anyone has written a futuristic SF where landfills are mined to recover all the metals and other scarce materials when the world has used them all up?

  4. janelindskold Says:

    Certainly futuristic or survivalist SF has used the mining the landfill or junkyard with enthusiasm. I suspect one of the appealing elements of S.M. Stirling’s “Change” universe is all the odd ways what was once trash becomes treasure.

    I have a few friends (and to a limited category fit this myself) who are very into re-purposing what would otherwise be trash. We save paper tubes for our zoo to use for “enrichment” for the animals, for example. (They stuff food in them so the critters need to figure things out.) We take plastic pots back to the greenhouses. It’s actually a very interesting way to see items.

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