I know the differences in the meaning of word "trash" and "garbage" but how about "take out the trash" vs. "take out the garbage"? Can both these expressions be used interchangeably? What is the difference in meaning if any?
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It is legitimate to use these terms garbage and trash interchangeably in American English:
1.1 A thing that is considered worthless or meaningless:
1.0 chiefly North American Discarded matter; refuse.
ODO American English
In many contexts, garbage might have a unique meaning as the etymologies imply:
"refuse, filth," 1580s; earlier "giblets, refuse of a fowl, waste parts of an animal (head, feet, etc.) used for human food" (early 15c., in early use also gabage, garbish, garbidge ), of unknown origin; OED says probably from Anglo-French "like many other words found in early cookery books." In its sense of "waste material, refuse" it has been influenced by and partly confused with garble (q.v.) in its older sense of "remove refuse material from spices;" Middle English had the derived noun garbelage but it is attested only as the action of removing the refuse, not the material itself.
Perhaps the English word originally is from a derivative of Old French garbe/jarbe "sheaf of wheat, bundle of sheaves," though the sense connection is difficult. This word is from Proto-Germanic *garba- (cognates: Dutch garf, German garbe "sheaf"), from PIE *ghrebh- (1) "to seize, reach" (see grab (v.)).
"In modern American usage garbage is generally restricted to mean kitchen and vegetable wastes" [Craigie]. Used figuratively for "worthless, offensive stuff" from 1590s. Garbage can is from 1901. Garbage collector "trash man" is from 1872; Australian shortening garbo attested from 1953. Garbology "study of waste as a social science" is by 1976; garbologist is from 1965.
late 14c., "thing of little use or value, waste, refuse, dross," perhaps from a Scandinavian source (compare Old Norse tros "rubbish, fallen leaves and twigs," Norwegian dialectal trask "lumber, trash, baggage," Swedish trasa "rags, tatters"), of unknown origin.
Source etymonline.com, Emphasis mine.
When the distinction is needed, garbage is much more likely to be used in reference to food waste specifically. Trash may include food waste, but tends to a more generic reference. The distinction becomes important for households that separate refuse for processing in various ways:
- Removal to the landfill
When I was a teenager, newly moved to Rockland County, NY (NYC suburb), I was surprised that garbage and trash were two different things. Garbage was, and still is, your ordinary household refuse, while trash is stuff you don't throw away on a regular basis (i.e. old shoes, things you stored in the garage, etc.) There are two garbage pickup days per week, and only one trash day, and they are put out in different locations (garbage in your cans near the house, trash on the side of the road).
That being said, most people use the two words more or less interchangeably, and I don't perceive that one is more pejorative than the other.
In Canada, we generally use the word "garbage", especially when referring to kitchen waste.
Also "take out the garbage" generally a phrase referring to kitchen waste, something a wife might say to husband (we generally forget) or sons (for some reason daughters rarely take out the garbage)
"trash" usually refers to non-food waste.
But having said that, the two words are interchangeable.
Given the difference in the responses I'm seeing, it appears to be a dialect issue. There isn't one answer covering all US English dialects.
I say "nearly" because there is one important difference: when "taking out the trash/garbage" is used metaphorically to refer to getting rid of a person, "trash" has a more negative classist connotation, due to it also referencing the metaphor white trash.
Where I live in the American Midwest, garbage and trash are not the same, although there is a lot of overlap.
- "Garbage" is somehow dirtier than trash. "Kitchen garbage" is one of the dirtiest, although it ranks with "diaper garbage".
- "Trash" is stuff that's being thrown away, but not because it might rot or stink: office trash is mostly paper, boxes and office supplies.
In practice, using one in place of the other will almost never sound wrong. However, if used metaphorically, the nuance can be meaningful:
- If I'm "taking out the garbage", I'm carrying something that is disgusting, that if it touches me, might make me dirty. If this is a euphemism for violence against a person, this conveys that that person is themselves dirty or disgusting.
- "Taking out the trash" is more of a routine boring task that just has to be done. If I use this in reference to a person, it mostly just reflects that beating them up or throwing them out is no challenge, presumably because the person in question is significantly weaker than me.
They are generally interchangeable but "trash" is less formal and with "trash" there's a stronger connotation is of negative value or something more actively repulsive, compared to zero value.
This bit of language also relates to American culture that tends not to see the potential value in various waste streams, that might be reclaimed even by somebody else via recycling, composting, etc.
Finally, "trash" is aliterative and helps with flow.