Against 'Garbage'

It's a crutch word—so, in 2015, let’s take it out.

I understand what drives it, I really do. I think of the Ninja Turtles.

In English, we need a general affirmation of goodness, a word that says, “that’s awesome!” Like, for instance, awesome. Hammocks are awesome, giant squids are awesome, Pilot G-2 gel ink pens are awesome. Everything is awesome.

But these get tiresome after a while, so we have to keep swapping them out. What was cool now becomes sick, what was sick now becomes nasty, and what was nasty now becomes—and here’s the reptilian, Raphaelite contribution—rad.

And likewise English needs a general confirmation of detestation, too. In a year often filled with frustration and horror, experienced through a medium where silence can be read as apathy, we need a word to say: I’m seeing this too, and it sucks.

In 2014, garbage became that word. And that is why, my friends, it must be abolished.

I saw the use of garbage go hockey-stick this year. A more veteran colleague disagrees, and reports it has been an online synonym for “this is bad” since at least 2012. If so, it is now oversaturated—and, that’s right, here is the part of the post where I cite web-headline anecdata to prove a trend is general.

Web-headline anecdata, that is, all from the past four days.

“Auto Reviewers Prove YouTube Comments Are A Cesspool Of Garbage People,” thunders Jalopnik. “12 Reasons The 12 Days Of Christmas Is Garbage,” heaves BuzzFeed, the copula conjugated in such a way that I’m pretty sure they’re talking about the song. (Though Christmas is celebrated I suppose for its historically atypical copulation.) The Daily Dot has even suggested garbage should be the word of the year.

And just yesterday, the Medium-hosted comics blog The Nib summarized 2014’s “Year In Garbage.” The whole year was garbage, it concluded, as it elaborated on the trope: “2014 was simply a trashpile of world events and sewer people.”

Which, first of all: I guess? Like, if you read the news all day—which, let’s recall, is distinguished among U.S. attentional diversions for its ceaseless focus on global maladies—the year will seem to be a parade of sewer people? (Though not a literal one—that would be kinda cool.)

Surely this year was full of human suffering, injustice, and anguish. Innocents died. Infrastructure failed. Systemic ailments continued unabated and even flourished.

But… a garbage year? A year not even worth paying attention to? A year to be discarded, and nothing more?

No. Garbage is a crutch. Very specifically, garbage the noun adjunct is a crutch: Garbage year, garbage government, garbage person. Garbage plays with a performative pessimism, and its every re-use occasions a fresh round of competitive despair. It dumps minor irritations and systemic oppressions into one giant Tupperware of antipathy, where they clump together in the warmed-over microwave light of online odium.

That hints at what’s worse about garbage, the idea behind it. Garbage gets thrown out and then ignored, left to rot and break down. (This is why I find garbage person especially cruel.) But our lovely and burning world deserves more attention, more striving, more thoughtful time, not less.

I know. I know. Not every Internet utterance can be perfected. (I’m a journalist.) And garbage is fun to say.

That’s why I reserve special judgment for garb, the Twitter-friendly abbreviation. I adore abbrevs, in text and speech, probs too much tbqh. But garb is already a word, with a strictly regulated use. Garb may only come in two varieties, ethnic and seasonal.

The blog posts were right: Garbage was general all over Twitter. But it needs not be so. And very soon, in ’16 or soon after, we will have reserved garbage the noun-attributive for its sole proper, just, and fitting use: to name the steaming pile of hamburgers, sausage, steak, eggs, grilled cheese sandwiches, taters tot, french fries, and macaroni salad—the great civilizational contribution of Rochester, New York—the garbage plate.

Julie Beck contributed thought leadership to this article.