‘garbology’: original meaning and oddities

Originally, the humorous noun garbology was chiefly used to designate the collection of domestic refuse.

This noun is from garb- in garbage, and the combining form -ology, denoting a particular subject or science.

—Cf. also:
– the noun
garbologist, which, originally, was chiefly used to designate a person whose job is to collect domestic refuse;
‘garbageology’ | ‘garbageologist’: original meanings and early occurrences.





However, the first two occurrences of garbology that I have found are peculiar:

1-: In the following from the column Rustic Ruminations, by Peter Pike, published in the Cotton Factory Times (Manchester, Lancashire, England) of Friday 27th February 1914, garbology, of obscure meaning, is most probably from the noun garb, denoting clothing:

Clothing is a nuisance in many instances, more especially to the bare-skinned, starved urchin who is envying the wax dummy in the emporium window his 12/6 suit, and his over-painted cheeks. Look at the happiness which would accrue to man if custom didn’t impel him to hunt collar studs all his life! Why, the meanest rogue amongst us doesn’t like to be collared, but custom and the bobby wills it so too often. Then look at the ties we wear! Only the other day I read of a boy being strangled to death by getting his tie caught with a cart-wheel, poor chap! Yet man will continue to ride around the sartorial arena in drab, drain-pipey garbology, if woman still rides her hobby almost bare-backed.

2-: In the following from the Plainfield Courier-News (Plainfield, New Jersey, USA) of Monday 21st August 1944, garbology, from the noun garbage, is used humorously in the sense of silly terminology:

Texas U. Comes Up With ‘Garbology’

Fort Worth, Tex.—“People we could easily do without” are listed in campus terminology by the Texas Christian University student newspaper, The Skiff, in the following garbology:
Bijit (feminine), always busy with someone else’s business; bloggie, never smiles; bushess has a duchess complex and two-bit grammar; globb, just naturally untidy; twarp, full of punk wisecracks.
Glammie-pie, a gal who looks beautiful, and that’s all she does; tellagoon, can be relied upon to say the right thing at the wrong time; gabbit, volunteers lots of jolly information, mostly wrong; and jerp, spends most of his time relating personal experiences of interest only to himself.



The earliest occurrences that I have found of garbology used in the sense of the collection of domestic refuse are as follows, in chronological order:

1-: From the title given, in the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York, USA) of Saturday 9th October 1965, to a story by United Press International, published in many U.S. and Canadian newspapers in October 1965:

Red Berets Prove It
They’re Garbology Experts

HARTFORD, Conn. (UPI)—A rubbish removal company said yesterday it would continue its newspaper campaign to have its men referred to as “your friendly garbologists.”
Raymond Esposito, a partner in the firm, said that in the current era of specialization it is only natural his men be known by the term. “They are certified garbologists,” he said.
He said that when his nine drivers make their collections, they wear red berets. “Otherwise, they wouldn’t stand out,” he said.
Esposito said he plans similar advertisements in various newspapers. “We had a lot of calls after that ad Thursday in the Hartford Times,” he said.

2-: From the caption to the following cartoon, illustrating an editorial published in the Orlando Evening Star (Orlando, Florida, USA) of Friday 29th October 1965:


This is the editorial published in the Orlando Evening Star (Orlando, Florida, USA) of Friday 29th October 1965:

‘Your Friendly Garbologist’

THE PLAN of a rubbish removal company in Hartford, Conn. to have its employes wear red berets and be referred to as “your friendly garbologist” follows the modern trend of upgrading the professions which render a service to mankind.
We can remember when any man who practiced medicine was invariably referred to as “Doc,” and a great guy he was too, but nowadays he is a general practitioner, unless he is a surgeon, a medical internist, a gynecologist, or orthopedist, a dermatologist, an obstetrician, a urologist, or an ophthamologist [sic].
WE DON’T know anyone who renders any greater service to suffering humanity than a garbage collector. Those who do not agree with us have only to live through a period in which local garbage collection procedures have broken down for a few days to change their minds.
It is not difficult work, but it is disagreeable and it doesn’t pay very well. We should be grateful to those who are willing to do it. If red berets, a significant title and a pat on the back will add to their esprit de corps and give them a sense of dignity as human beings, we’re all for it.

3-: From the Kenosha News (Kenosha, Wisconsin, USA) of Saturday 15th January 1966:


Garbage collector Ernest Arnold, in a Swansea, Wales, court to answer charges he stole a car battery, was asked to give his occupation. “I’m a garbologist,” he replied grandly. Well, why not? Don’t some janitors insist on calling themselves “sanitary engineer?”

4-: From the following editorial published in the Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Florida, USA) of Thursday 23rd June 1966:

‘Garbology’ Summer Study

MAYBE THOSE WHO are worried over a labor shortage in the garbage collecting business ought to read Tom Sawyer over again. Mark Twain may have a message for them.
Recent days have released several thousand husky, able bodied young men from high school and college who should welcome a chance to get themselves in condition for fall football and be paid while they’re doing it.
PERHAPS THE “KOOKS” who have been promoting such terms as “garbologist” and “sanitation specialist” are not quite so kookie as we thought. There has always been a bit of unthinking prejudice against the necessary and honorable business of waste disposal.
A few years ago it was considered a worthy news story when the son of a junkman was elected president of his class in an Ivy League college. But Louis Wolfson and a few others managed to amass considerable fortunes in helping more esthetic folks dispose of unwanted junk.
WASTE DISPOSAL IN Brevard County is already a huge problem and growing steadily as our population continues to mount. The same kind of dedication that “garbologist” and “sanitation spe- [sic] impels young people to join the Peace Corps to be of service to mankind might be brought into play to encourage an interest in helping with this county’s waste disposal.
Collecting garbage is not exactly a clean job but it doesn’t even compare with the conditions which our Peace Corps volunteers subject themselves to in backward lands. Brevard still has plenty of soap and ample quantities of clean water.
AS A RECENT story in The Brevard Sentinel suggested, citizens volunteer to serve with fire companies, a volunteer ambulance corps is forming—why not volunteer garbage collectors—pardon us, garbologists?
Seriously, there is a need for able bodied young men who are not afraid of work. The hours are not bad. The pay is low but adequate for a student summertime job.
We don’t know what brought about the sudden labor shortage in the garbage collection business, especially in Eau Gallie, but it couldn’t have happened at a better time. School’s out.

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