18 July 2016

The linguistic history of "dumpster fire"


With the Republican national convention underway, this seems to be an appropriate time to post some excerpts from an interesting article on the history of the usage of the term "dumpster fire."
"... more or less every politician, sports team, mediocre TV show and annoying celebrity has been compared to a receptacle full of burning waste...

The dumpster broke onto the scene in 1936, part of a brand-new patented trash-collection system that introduced the basic concept of the modern garbage truck, with containers that could be mechanically lifted and emptied into the vehicle from above. The system, invented by future mayor of Knoxville, Tennessee, George Dempster, took its creator’s name, and the Dempster-Dumpster was born...

In British English, for example, one is more likely to hear the term “skip” to denote a large garbage receptacle, but does “skip fire” grab one as an equally startling and appealing barb to deploy on Twitter? What about “Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been a complete wheelie bin fire”? Not so much. ..

A Google search pulls up references to dumpster fires in local newspapers and fire department training documents as far back as the 1970s, but pinning down the derogatory use of the term is tricky. Even after one tries to filter out official reports of actual dumpster fires, it seems like the term just suddenly appeared everywhere in the last eight years, and before that was nowhere. Isolating a patient zero is a maddening task...

The most likely subcultural culprit, though, is the sports world. Linguist Mark Liberman, who works at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in a recent blog post, “A few years ago, I noticed hosts and callers on sports talk radio using the phrase ‘dumpster fire’ as a metaphor for chaotically bad situations.”  ...

Actually, the death knell for “dumpster fire,” rolling or stationary, seems to be due. Such over-saturation of a particular, visceral image or phrase typically leads it down the road to obsolescence, like the “epic fail” and “fml” of yesteryear. 
More at the link. 

1 comment:

  1. And I have never heard that term...not far from NYC.

    ReplyDelete

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