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I have the feeling that luggage is more closely associated with vacation travel, whereas baggage is for general transportation. Or... are they just exact synonyms?

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Luggage is coined by Shakespeare –  Thursagen Jul 5 '11 at 23:57
    
@Ham: reference? –  user1579 Jul 5 '11 at 23:58
    
This do? –  Thursagen Jul 6 '11 at 0:12

4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Outside of the emotional realm (as noted by FumbleFingers), they both generally refer to "that stuff you're traveling with". I think I'm more likely to say "baggage" for irregular items (e.g. golf clubs) and "luggage" for things packed in suitcases. "Luggage" but not "baggage" can also refer to the suitcase itself; when you buy a suitcase you're buying luggage, not baggage, but when you fill it up and get on a plane you're carrying either luggage or baggage.

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I wouldn't call empty suitcases (as you buy them) 'luggage'. I call it a 'luggage set' if I buy more than one case, otherwise I just buy 'a suitcase'. Golf clubs and such are really just 'the kit' - I doubt many people going round the golf course would call it 'baggage'. But I do agree we might sometimes see the 'luggage' as that subset of total baggage which is in luggable rectangular cases. –  FumbleFingers Jul 5 '11 at 23:24
    
I wasn't familiar with "the kit"; thanks. (I don't actually golf, but the most recent bulky thing I've flown with was a crossbow and I somehow didn't think people would relate as easily to that. Or armor. :-) ) –  Monica Cellio Jul 6 '11 at 1:00

The basic difference is that "baggage" has a greater scope of meaning than "luggage".

Dictionary.com on "baggage":

  1. trunks, suitcases, etc., used in traveling; luggage.
  2. the portable equipment of an army.
  3. things that encumber one's freedom, progress, development, or adaptability; impediment

Dictionary.com on "luggage":

  1. suitcases, trunks, etc.; baggage.
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Well, the place where you pick up your luggage at the airport is normally called Baggage Reclaim, so they are pretty much synonyms.

Except if you're talking to your therapist, for example, he may say you're carrying a lot of 'emotional baggage' (sense 3 here), but I never heard of 'emotional luggage'. Maybe I've been seeing the wrong kind of shrink.

Possible your sense of baggage being more 'general transportation' is because you have some awareness that in a military context it covers just about everything the men can carry without needing transporters.

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It's interesting that there are a couple of answers here that suggest "baggage" is more general than "luggage" - I would put their meanings the other way round, with luggage being more general than baggage.

In broad terms, based on the roots of the words,

Baggage = stuff in bags

and

Luggage = stuff you lug (= carry/drag)

So irregular items that don't fit into bags are luggage but, strictly speaking, not baggage. You might even go as far as to say that your luggage consists of your baggage plus any unbagged items you're taking with you. Nowadays however such distinctions are somewhat pedantic/archaic and the words are more or less synonymous.

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