Does anyone know why 'garbage' is ゴミ?

One of the latest pieces of vocabulary I’ve learned is ゴミ箱 (garbage can - or rubbish bin as the Brit in me would call it :stuck_out_tongue: )

Thus far most of the katakana I’ve come across has been mostly English, with a dash of French and Dutch. But I can’t work out which language (if any) has a word for trash that sounds like “go-me”!

Any guesses at the Etymology?


Aside, (after asking around) my favourite, and definitely apocryphal, suggestion is that if you write ゴミ vertically, if ~kinda~ looks like a can full of trash :slight_smile:


Does it need an etymology explanation? I thought it was just Japanese. It’s a kunyomi after all. The kanji is rare though, 塵 or 芥


Don’t know where it originally comes from, but gum and gom are Dutch words for eraser. This is the bin that erases - the garbage can.

Gom in turn also means rubber - which has the same origins as the gum in chewing gum.

1 Like

Ah- I had just assumed the ゴミ was a borrowed word (like ゴム ~ gummi ~ rubber for eraser).

I didn’t realise that it could just be sounding out a rare Kanji.

This blurb speculating on the etymology mentions it was used in a piece of written Japanese from the 14th century, before contact with the west.


Interesting :slight_smile:

Also thanks for sharing that website with me, hadn’t seen that before (although it’s well above my current ability!)

So far I’ve not found no single golden rule as to why katakana - but as Leebo mentions, definitely not a loanword.

  1. the kanji is rare, so people are not expected to recognise it, so it gets written out in kana
    a. because hiragana is used for words without kanji and grammar/inflections, writing it in katakana makes the word easier to read/recognise in a piece of text.
    b. media sometimes uses katakana in stead of hiragana to make certain words ‘pop’. In the case of trash, it might have caught on and many people now write it this way (while there are apparently arguments that it should be written in hiragana).

which of these is true? No idea. Interesting question though - I had simply assumed loanword and didn’t think twice.


A bit unrelated but I always snicker a bit when I see 人ごみ. (crowd of people)


I understand that a dirty deer is not as pleasant to look at as a clean deer, but still, calling a deer a garbage just because it got some dirt on is a bit too much…

Well, I can see how flowers can become garbage if they get jammed in


This topic was automatically closed 365 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.