A Garbage “Rubbish”?

In his recent book The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, the English Welsh journalist Jon Ronson has a set piece in which he encounters the disgraced American corporate executive Al “Chainsaw Al” Dunlop. The book is about psychopaths–whether they exist, what they are–and the issue in this scene is if Dunlop qualifies. Ronson quotes him as saying:

“Listen. The psychopath thing is rubbish. You cannot be successful unless you have certain”–he pointed to his head–“controls.”

Well, no. As everybody knows, American say garbage while the British say rubbish (and whilst). Well, not everybody. Jon Ronson was clearly unaware and put a bogus rubbish in Al Dunlop’s mouth. Good thing NOOBs is on the case!

19 responses to “A Garbage “Rubbish”?

  1. I’m from eastern Massachusetts and people do say “rubbish” here. I grew up hearing it and using it. Rubbish but trash & garbage as well. I used to work for a “rubbish company” (ha-ha) and that is how the business referred to itself vs. say, the generic, “refuse”.

  2. We know Americans say ‘garbage’ instead of ‘rubbish.’ But how do we know Chainsaw Al wasn’t using ‘rubbish’ on purpose for the benefit of WELSH journo Jon Ronson? I say ‘trash’ and ‘crappy business’ (vs. ‘crap business’) in the company of Americans (circumstances and weather permitting).

    When I was very young living in the West Coast of USA back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I heard lots of out-and-out Americans use ‘rubbish’ (similar to the situation Sharon above was talking about).

    No, I think the Ronson quotation is an authentic one, and a corporate suit of Al Dunlop’s level would likely use ‘rubbish’ to a British journalist in an on-the-record interview. In other words, I reckon this is a Britishism false alarm.

  3. Americans use rubbish – just not as the primary choice. We also use bin – but not as a synonym for garbage or trash can. In AmE rubbish is more commonly used metaphorically to denote “nonsense”; it’s not unheard of to use it synonymously for garbage, but I think in this instance the writer cleaned up the quote for his major audience – the UK.

  4. I use rubbish to mean nonsense everyday! Within the US there are colloquialisms. Maybe my family used the term “bin” — with regard to “trash or trash can” — even though colleagues from other parts of the U.S. don’t.

    Although in offices I find “trash cans” are referred to as deskside bins. Could ultimately be a family word, that one, more than anything else.

    and there are words that have fallen out of fashion regionally. For instance, in the Boston area, “soda” or “pop” used to be referred to as “tonic”. My parents still drop it now and again. The corner shop (or corner market) are still referred to as “spas” by Boston locals. Don’t believe anyplace else in the US uses these words in quite the same way.

    In Rhode Island, a “carbonate” is a “frappe” (in Massachusetts) and in the rest of the country, they probably call them “shakes”. In Boston, shakes and frappes are distinctly different and still going strong.

  5. As a former corporate executive, he would have travelled and had colleagues from all kinds of different places, surely? I’m with the others on this one; either courtesy or he’s picked it up himself.

  6. Well, you make good points, so I am willing to acknowledge Dunlop MAY have said “rubbish.” (Though I doubt it.) So I am hereby adding a question mark to the title of this entry. And I corrected Ronson’s nationality.

  7. “Rubbish,” with the literal meaning of “trash”, is not strictly British. It’s not uncommon to hear or read a phrase like “a rubbish-strewn empty lot,” although “trash-strewn” would be more common.

    While I agree that Brits use “rubbish” much more than Americans do and in a wider variety of circumstances, I disagree that “garbage” is an exact equivalent. Where I grew up (Washington, DC), “garbage” was reserved for organic waste, if it was used at all. Every other kind of rubbish was – and still is in most places except New York, I think – “trash.” For the metaphorical meaning, “nonsense” would be the usual choice unless a stronger word was used.

    “It’s your turn to take out the trash.”
    “No, it’s not. Stop talking nonsense.”

  8. I have no idea if it’s the case in this interview, but it is standard practice to sub out the “Americanisms” of American celebs in the British press. It used to drive me crazy! Would readers really be confused by mom instead of mum? At first I thought maybe some Americans were trying to pick up the lingo, but it’s on such a scale that it couldn’t be.

  9. Well, it can be argued that mom / mum are two different spellings of the same word, so if an English newspaper quotes an American as saying “mum”, the paper isn’t correcting him; it’s simply using standard English spelling.

  10. (forgot to subscribe)

  11. “sub out” – – jolly good! Crikey, a new one!

    I’ll stop now. . . .

  12. IMO, adopting “rubbish” stateside would be “brilliant”.

  13. Despite his rather fey manner Ronson is a professional journalist and almost certainly recorded Dunlop or made verbatim notes (he may even be old enough to have learned shorthand) so I am quite willing to believe Dunlop said rubbish.

    After all according to Ronson’s book one of the things that defines a clever psychopath is an ability to imitate his victims so knowing as a globe-trotting plutocrat that Brits say rubbish and not garbage it strikes me as entirely plausible that he was adapting his language to his audience.

  14. As a result of a misspent adulthood, I receive a publication titled “Waste & Recycling News.” Recently, they did a feature issue “100 Years of the Garbage Truck.” It turns out that there was, in about 1952, a firm in Los Angeles named United Rubbish Co., and another, sometime between 1943 and 1963, in the Bronx, the Fordham Refuse Co. The Fordham’s trucks were painted with “Rubbish & Garbage Removal.” In my house growing up, refuse was divided into “garbage” and “rubbish.” We had an incinerator in the basement for “garbage” and other flammables and a large fiberboard drum for “rubbish.”

  15. We Brits regularly use ‘Rubbish’ in several contexts:
    1. something you dispose of (trash, garbage)
    2. Of inferior quality (lame)
    3. An inaccurate fact or statement (nonesense)

  16. In Alberta a few years ago I was told trash was American whilst garbage was Canadian. When I lived in Scotland in the 50s the stuff we put in the “Dust Bin” ( a large bin for household rubbish) was called Refuse and it went to the destructor in large dust carts (trucks) where it got burned.
    I never heard anyone use Rubbish till I went to university where a girl friend used that word to help explain what she thought of my opinion. I would say in Britain now the word rubbish is used widely to identify household refuse and illogical opinions. I rarely hear garbage or trash used in Britain but I would say if the words were used their meaning would be clearly understood.

  17. In the UK we also use “rubbish” as a verb. You can “rubbish” something, i.e. suggest that it is worthless or not worthwhile. To rubbish something means to undermine it, to belittle it, to dismiss it. Commonly people’s opinions can be “rubbished”.

  18. Pingback: Well played, Slate! | Not One-Off Britishisms

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