Garbage People
July 30, 2015 1:47 PM   Subscribe

When did the phrase "Garbage People/Person" become popular?

At first I thought the phrase came from Jason Manztoukas on How Did This Get Made? but after the incredible line in the new season of Bojack Horseman, and in a recent Mefi thread I'm wondering if I've missed Garbage People all this time or if its fun new slang and I'm just old.

Have folks seen it elsewhere? When did people start using it on Mefi?
posted by kittensofthenight to Writing & Language (38 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
No idea if this is the origin, but I first remember it from Which One Of My Garbage Sons Are You?
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:58 PM on July 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Season 1 of Broad City also has the amazing line "you're garbage people living on garbage island!". I think it might just be something that entered the zeitgeist all at once in 2013/14.
posted by Itaxpica at 2:00 PM on July 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


I've been seeing it on tumblr (plus the similar "I'm trash") for about... 2 years now? Which, since I am 40 years old and not the typical tumblr demographic, probably means it's been around for a few years before I noticed it at least.
posted by MsMolly at 2:03 PM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


It goes back at least to Freeway, the 1996 Reese Witherspoon movie:

Vanessa: Are you the guy who's been killing all them girls on the freeway, Bob?
[Bob chuckles sadistically]
Vanessa: Why are you killing all them girls, Bob?
Bob Wolverton: 'Cause I have absolutely reached my fucking limit with people like you, Vanessa.
Vanessa: What kinda people am I supposed to be?
Bob Wolverton: The alcoholics, the drug addicts, the fathers who fuck their daughters, the drug addicted motherfucking whores with their bastard fucking offspring.
Vanessa: Hey I ain't no trick baby!
Bob Wolverton: We call them garbage people, and I assure you, you are one of them.
posted by neroli at 2:04 PM on July 30, 2015 [13 favorites]


First reference of the current iteration I heard went back to Armond White, who allegedly used a similar term in reference to [film director] Steve McQueen. Not long after, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler made a very similar joke (about Matt Damon) at the Golden Globes (my guess is the phrasing was intentional).
posted by Gilbert at 2:14 PM on July 30, 2015




"...only a garbage government will accept a garbage person."

What a fuckin great zinger.

Maybe its a slang form that ebbs and flows, and we're seeing it popularized at the moment. I remember the Broad City line too. Great examples. Anyone find anything before the early 90s? Maybe its a 'grunge' thing, like swinging on the flippity flop or lamestain.
posted by kittensofthenight at 2:27 PM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not convinced these cites below capture the nuance of the modern slang "garbage person," which is a broad putdown that suggests everything they do is worthless, rather that they themselves should be or have been discarded. But for what they're worth:

Another 1992 use, but based on a Google Books snippet, which may not be reliable: "Croats...are 'garbage' people who have no rights that the “right” people need to respect."

Another from Google Books, this from 1980. The date is solid. I believe this is fiction. "laura said 'alta! charles manson stole your phrase! he called himself a garbage person!' no, laura, i said: i stole his phrase. i got it from him. in 1967 i wrote an essay recognizing..."

Charles Manson *did* say something like that, cited here as being from 1970: "Where does the garbage go, as we have tin cans and garbage alongside the road, and oil slicks in your water, so you have people, and I am one of your garbage people."
posted by Mo Nickels at 2:31 PM on July 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


I thought it was becoming popular because of an increased sensitivity to using put-downs that unnecessarily rope in innocent parties. Like calling someone dumb or retarded, etc.
posted by bleep at 2:40 PM on July 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm pretty sure I learned it from How Did This Get Made, where I picked up other things like "that's bananas" and "what's happening?"
posted by sweetkid at 3:17 PM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I learned it from comedian Julie Klausner. I thought it was her thing, but who knows, as she is quite a pop-culture sponge. Given that, I trust that she would have adopted the terminology pretty quickly after its recent-ish surge in being a "thing" people say. The earliest instance of her using it that I can find is from 2010 (in the comments section):

Natasha: Look at Ke$ha right now!
Julie: She is a GARBAGE PERSON.
posted by oceanview at 3:40 PM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Tom Scharpling of The Best Show has been using iterations of "garbage" and "garbage person" since at least 2009? (Which honestly could have been where Julie Klausner picked it up, or maybe they both pulled it from the same NYC/Jersey zeitgeist? I really think of it as a Jersey thing.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 4:25 PM on July 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


According to Google Trends, 2009-ish for "garbage person", and a peak in May 2012 for "garbage people".

Of course, either of these could be referring to sanitation workers.

The Google Ngram report is worth a look, although it's based on formally published works (e.g., books), meaning that practically all of these references are, in fact, to sanitation workers.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:38 PM on July 30, 2015


I learned it from the most recent season of "The Mindy Project" when Mindy refers to Morgan as a "garbage person."
posted by chickenmagazine at 5:38 PM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's also an entry on Urban Dictionary from July 2008 (with all the debonair delicacy we've come to expect from UD).
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:41 PM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


No help in terms of provenance, but in terms of meaning, nuance & interpretation, I get the sense that it's used similarly to how people use "trash fish" to refer to fish that, when one catches them while fishing for yummy food fish, one regards them as mere refuse, in a practical sense and also in a moral sense in that they have no intrinsic value that might redeem their existence. Unless I'm wrong, which I might be.
posted by univac at 6:35 PM on July 30, 2015


While it isn't nice, it's relatively normal... at least among those that would be calling someone that in the first place. Didn't realize anyone considered this a "new" thing, because I've heard it used on and off at minimum since the early-to-mid 90s as basically the equivalent of "trash", as in "white trash". Using the word "people" with it isn't as common, and sounds sort of off, but hearing, basically, "Oh her? She's just garbage. That whole family defines white trash."
posted by stormyteal at 6:56 PM on July 30, 2015


white trash is distinctly different from "garbage person." Garbage person in my experience is not class related.
posted by sweetkid at 7:28 PM on July 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


"Garbage people" starts appearing in the Google n-gram corpus in the 60s or so, and then jumps in the 80's, with a big spike in about 2000.
posted by rockindata at 7:28 PM on July 30, 2015


"white trash is distinctly different from "garbage person." Garbage person in my experience is not class related."

Agree completely. I'd be happy to call anyone a garbage person without fear that an outside observer would misinterpret what I'm saying as racist or classist.

Thing is, I wouldn't be happy to call just anyone a garbage person. I think that some people are willing to refer to another human as white trash based on a cursory glance, a judgment on appearances. But for me to call someone a garbage person means I'm making a judgment based on things they've said, opinions upon which they have held forth in public. For me the garbage person insult is based on personality.

although I'll admit that more often than not garbage people are those that should be better-informed than they are. It's something you use to signify that they're sufficiently educated / informed / experienced that they ought not to say such dumb things. In fact ... this is revealing to me that - though I had not previously considered this - I would be extremely adverse to calling an ignorant or uneducated human a garbage person. It's reserved for those that have the privilege of sufficient life experience such that they ought to know better than what they're doing or saying.

In my mind, that is.

aaaaanyway, to directly answer the question "when did it become popular?": I started seeing it in my circles maybe two years ago and loved it on sight.
posted by komara at 8:04 PM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


I definitely could have picked it up from Julie Klausner, for what it's worth.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:31 PM on July 30, 2015


I definitely associate the phrase with Manson, and with his cult family's dumpster-diving activities (see photos here).
posted by Scram at 11:10 PM on July 30, 2015


My mother used this term for homeless people... in the 1970s. She probably still uses it but we're not in touch.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 6:40 AM on July 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


Of course, either of these could be referring to sanitation workers.

Relatedly, I've seen it proposed that "Pick-Up Artists" and "Garbage Men" should trade names.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:03 AM on July 31, 2015 [25 favorites]


Oh, and Julie Klausner has a bit of a Manson obsession, so she could have picked it up from reading books about him, although that's kind of gross if she did.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:14 AM on July 31, 2015


although I'll admit that more often than not garbage people are those that should be better-informed than they are. It's something you use to signify that they're sufficiently educated / informed / experienced that they ought not to say such dumb things.

I too am pretty sure I hear it most often used to refer to extremely privileged people who use their powers for evil. Like, Donald Trump is the ultimate garbage person.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:54 AM on July 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm no trendsetter but I've used the term for at least 15 years, the earliest one I can confidently remember is about 10 years back on a note I left on a garbage person's windshield informing them that their garbage parking job was the work of a garbage person.
posted by Cosine at 9:36 AM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


For what it's worth, I've never heard the term and:

I'd be happy to call anyone a garbage person without fear that an outside observer would misinterpret what I'm saying as racist or classist.

If I heard someone use this phrase I would absolutely think it was racist or classist, and reading this thread hasn't entirely convinced me otherwise.
posted by mmoncur at 9:42 PM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


If I heard someone use this phrase I would absolutely think it was racist or classist, and reading this thread hasn't entirely convinced me otherwise.

If it makes you feel any better I hear it a lot IRL (for the sake of more data for the actual purpose of this thread I live in NYC and started hearing it a bunch in 2013, a little bit before it showed up in Broad City), and basically 100% of the time it's upper-middle-class white people referring to other upper-middle-class white people, with the meaning being "you are human garbage" with no race or class angle attached.
posted by Itaxpica at 10:36 PM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


("Human garbage" in the sense of "you are a very bad person", not "you are homeless/dumpster diving/a Manson-esque 'discarded person'").
posted by Itaxpica at 10:40 PM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is "bastard people" (a la Waiting for Guffman) a variation on this, I wonder?
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:53 AM on August 1, 2015


If I heard someone use this phrase I would absolutely think it was racist or classist, and reading this thread hasn't entirely convinced me otherwise.

I have used the term "garbage person" to describe someone no longer in my life. I use this term because the person in question has revealed themselves to be missing a few of the pieces that make a functional non-crappy human being, and in short, they are not a good person. When I describe someone as a garbage person, or as a dumpster fire of a human being, I am not doing so because I disapprove of their race or their class. I am doing so because I have had interactions with that person that have caused me to dislike them so very strongly that I want to call them a name, but specifically because I do not want to use an ethnic slur, class slur, gendered slur, et cetera, I had to figure something else out, because just going, "ugh, I don't like that guy" sometimes just does not feel good enough when venting extreme spleen about someone who done did me wrong.
posted by palomar at 5:55 PM on August 1, 2015


It seems like a lot of us have picked up the term specifically from media made by members of the Upright Citizens Brigade. This thread alone has identified uses by the Broad City duo, the hosts of How Did This Get Made?, Julie Klausner, and Amy Poehler, all of whom are members. Even if the term didn't originate with them, I would bet it grew popular within that circle several years ago, and then spread out to the public thanks to their many TV shows and podcasts.

And FWIW, most of the people I follow on Tumblr tend to be very mindful of problematic language, and I haven't heard a peep about "garbage people" as a possible offender.
posted by brookedel at 8:40 PM on August 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


American English is in desperate need of more hurtful insults that aren't problematic references to an underprivileged class, the sort of thing we could fling at Donald Trump without worrying about collateral damage. The best I've come up with is "unlovable."
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:40 PM on August 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


'garbage', 'trash', 'trashboys' and the like sort of infected the Weird Twitter universe around 2012/13, I believe, possibly in conjunction with tumblr picking up on it as well. There's an interesting phenomenon with weird twitter riffs spreading out to hipper younger areas of broader media and culture - Clickhole, Broad City, and Bojack Horseman all take many of their cues from that niche twitter/tumblr humor.
posted by naju at 4:38 PM on August 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've heard it used for years on the Canadian podcast "Stop Podcasting Yourself."
posted by broken wheelchair at 2:51 PM on August 14, 2015


No help in terms of provenance, but in terms of meaning, nuance & interpretation, I get the sense that it's used similarly to how people use "trash fish" to refer to fish that, when one catches them while fishing for yummy food fish, one regards them as mere refuse, in a practical sense and also in a moral sense in that they have no intrinsic value that might redeem their existence.

So basically it means the same thing as “bum” (a word whose salient meaning is not so much homelessness or itinerancy but rather zero or negative value).

I wonder if the rise of “garbage person” matches a similar decline in the use of “bum”. Could “garbage person” have arisen as a euphemism for “bum”, possibly driven by its anatomical double meaning being no longer acceptable (because of either red-state Christian prissiness or fears of the potentially harrassing/triggering potential of anything remotely sexual)?
posted by acb at 5:56 AM on August 16, 2015


A good portion of my friends are super into the internet and twitter/tumblr culture. This phrase is, essentially, a meme. It entered the public consciousness, at least with visibility to me, around 2009/10 and i associate it with tumblr, yea. It was already getting going around then and was gaining steam when i quit using the site.

I don't know what the actual origin was, but it used the same delivery system as finna, ratchet(followed by the "oh wait we shouldn't say ratchet" and quick disavowing), and other similar stuff.

I always assumed it had a fairly black twitter sort of origin, because although most modern progressive-y not-black people who are on the internet all day will totally talk mad shit on cultural appropriation or whatever... that really does seem to be where most phrases like this come from. And then if that really was the origin and it becomes painfully obvious, they shift gears to denouncing that phrase and white people who use it.

Oh, and it's not just garbage person either, it's also trash, dumpster, garbage can, etc. I remember my friend being sad that the URL trashwitch was already taken.

It's used in almost exactly the same way as tool/tool box/power tool, which was also discussed on here in the recent shwench thread. Unlike that though, quite a few people i know use the phrase in a sarcastic/endearing way or sort of taking the piss about themselves("omg i'm such a garbage can it's 4pm and i still haven't gotten out of bed").

I pretty much just had not heard it until 2009 or so, though.
posted by emptythought at 12:36 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


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