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A pile of rubbish in India

Inherited from Middle English robous (rubbish, building rubble), further origin uncertain; possibly from Anglo-Norman rubous, rubouse, rubbouse (refuse, waste material; building rubble), and compare Anglo-Latin rebbussa, robousa, robusium, robusum, rubisum, rubusa, rubusium[1] (although the Anglo-Norman and Anglo-Latin words may be derived from the English word instead of the other way around, as there are no known Old French cognates of the word). The English word may be related to rubble, though the connection is unclear.[2] Possibly derived ultimately from Old Norse rubba (to huddle, crowd together, heap up", also possibly "to rub, scrape), from Proto-Germanic *rubbōną (to rub, scrape). Compare Swedish rubba (to move, displace, dislodge, upset).

The verb is derived from the noun.[3]



rubbish (usually uncountable, plural rubbishes)

  1. (chiefly Australia, New Zealand, British, Ireland, Commonwealth) Refuse, waste, garbage, junk, trash.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:trash
    The rubbish is collected every Thursday in Gloucester, but on Wednesdays in Cheltenham.
    • 1599 (first performance), William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of Iulius Cæsar”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act I, scene iii], page 113:
      What traſh is Rome? / What Rubbiſh and what Offall? when it ſerues / For the baſe matter, to illuminate / So vile a thing as Cæsar.
      Rome is trash, rubbish and offal when it serves as inferior matter that is burned to illuminate so vile a thing as Caesar.
    • [1747?] January 3, “[Literary Memoirs.] An Account of English Ants. By the Rev. William Gould, A.M. of Exeter-College, Oxon. London, printed for A[ndrew] Millar, 1747, 12mo. Pages 109, besides Preface and Dedication.”, in [Mark Akenside], editor, The Museum: Or, The Literary and Historical Register, volume II, number XXI, London: Printed for R[obert] Dodsley [], published 1746 (indicated on title page), →OCLC, page 272:
      [T]he Employments of the common Ants or Workers [] are partly the Management of the Young, and the Building their little Hills of Straw, Rubbiſh, and Particles of Earth, mixed with Blades of Graſs, into little Mounds or Ramparts, on which to expoſe the Eggs and Nymphs to the Sun-beams; their other great Employment is, in collecting Proviſions.
    • 1851 July 19, “The Value of Rubbish [from Chambers’ Journal]”, in E[liakim] Littell, editor, Littel’s Living Age, volume XXX, number CCCLXXIV, Boston, Mass.: Published by E. Littel & Company; Philadelphia, Pa.: Getz & Buck, []; New York, N.Y.: Dewitt & Davenport, [], →OCLC, chapter XXII, page 125, column 2:
      In the course of this operation [the copper-fastening of new, or the re-coppering of old, vessels], and more especially in a repair of this latter description, old copper nails, stray pieces of bold and sheet copper, with other parings of a similar nature, are lost among the chips, or in the bottom of the dock. These chips are sold at an almost nominal price, as rubbish, to the smelters, who cart them away often in large quantities, burn the chips out, then wash and smelt the remainder, if necessary, in the ordinary manner.
    • 1862 July, “Buchanan v. The Town of Galt”, in W[illiam] D[avis] Ardagh, Robert A[lexander] Harrison, editors, The Upper Canada Law Journal and Municipal and Local Courts’ Gazette, volume VII, Toronto, Ont.: Printed and published [] by W. C. Chewett & Co., →OCLC, page 182, column 1:
      The plaintiff claimed damages from the defendants for a breach of duty in allowing and permitting dirt and rubbish to be thrown or put upon a lane or public highway upon which his premises abutted. It appeared in evidence that the damage complained of was occasioned by the filling in and levelling a hollow in the lane, by means whereof the plaintiff's fence was pressed inwards, the filling in being done by private individuals throwing dirt and rubbish thereon.
    • [1939 May 4, James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, London: Faber and Faber Limited, →OCLC; republished London: Faber & Faber Limited, 1960, →OCLC, part I, page 17:
      Simply because as Taciturn pretells, our wrongstoryshortener, he dumptied the wholeborrow of rubbages on to soil here.]
    • 1957, Jack Kerouac, chapter 11, in On the Road, Viking Press, →OCLC:
      [] I was sleeping with my head on the wooden arm of a seat as six attendants of the theater converged with their night's total of swept-up rubbish and created a huge dusty pile that reached to my nose as I snored head down—till they almost swept me away too. [] Had they taken me with it, Dean would have never seen me again. He would have had to roam the entire United States and look in every garbage pail from coast to coast before he found me embryonically convoluted among the rubbishes of my life, his life, and the life of everybody concerned and not concerned.
    • 2015, Jody Sullivan Rake, “Rubbish-eating Goats”, in Abby Colich, editor, Rubbish Munchers of the Animal World, London: Raintree, Capstone Global Library, →ISBN, page 14:
      Goats are adventurous eaters. They nose around in rubbish looking for scraps of food.
  2. (by extension, chiefly Australia, New Zealand, British, Ireland, Commonwealth) An item, or items, of low quality.
    Much of what they sell is rubbish.
  3. (by extension, chiefly Australia, New Zealand, British, Ireland, Commonwealth) Nonsense.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:nonsense
    Everything the teacher said during that lesson was rubbish. How can she possibly think that a bass viol and a cello are the same thing?
    • 1774 April, “Summary of the Arguments of the Council and Judges in the Great Cause, which was Lately Heard before the House of Peers, for Ascertaining the Right of Literary Property. []”, in Sylvanus Urban [pseudonym; Edward Cave], editor, The Gentleman’s Magazine, and Historical Chronicle, volume XLIV, London: Printed [], for D[avid] Henry, and sold by F[rancis] Newbery, [], →OCLC, page 149, column 2:
      I ſhall [] lay out of my way the whole bede-roll of citations and precedents which they have produced, that heterogeneous heap of rubbiſh, which is only calculated to confound your Lordſhips, and miſlead the argument.
    • 1923, D[avid] H[erbert] Lawrence, “Neighbours”, in Kangaroo, London: Martin Secker [], →OCLC, pages 27–28:
      "Essays about what?" / "Oh—rubbish mostly." / There was a moment's pause. / "Oh, Lovat, don't be so silly. You know you don't think your essays rubbish," put in Harriet. "They're about life, and democracy, and equality, and all that sort of thing," Harriet explained.
    • 1933, Baroness Orczy [i.e., Emma Orczy], chapter II, in The Way of the Scarlet Pimpernel, New York, N.Y.: G[eorge] P[almer] Putnam’s Sons, published 1934, →OCLC, pages 23–24:
      But just now she felt that there was something flippant and unseemly in talking such fantastic rubbish: dreams seemed out of place when reality was so heartbreaking.
  4. (archaic) Debris or ruins of buildings; rubble.
    • 1600, Amandus Polanus, “And thus Farre Concerning Open Enemies: Now Concerning Dissembled Enemies”, in [Elijahu and Thomas Wilcocks], transl., The Svbstanec[sic – meaning Svbstance] of Christian Religion, [], imprinted at London: By Arn[old] Hatfield for Felix Norton, [], →OCLC, book I, page 446:
      That Antichriſt is a man exerciſing a kingdome, the head of the vniuerſall Apoſtaſie, [] the Romane monarchie being diuided and fallen downe, out of the rubbiſhes whereof, he is by litle & litle riſen & increaſed, thorow the power and forcible working of Sathan, []
    • 1646, John Hall, “A Satire”, in Poems, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: Printed by Roger Daniel, printer to the Universitie, for J. Rothwell, [], →OCLC; republished London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, 1816, →OCLC, book I, page 34:
      E'er since poor Cheapside cross in rubbage lay, []
    • 1667, John Dryden, Annus Mirabilis: The Year of Wonders, 1666. [], London: [] Henry Herringman, [], →OCLC, stanza 280, page 71:
      At length th' Almighty caſt a pitying eye, / And mercy ſoftly touch'd his melting breaſt: / He ſaw the town's one half in rubbiſh lie, / And eager flames give on to ſtorm the reſt.
    • 1697, Virgil, “The Eighth Book of the Æneis”, in John Dryden, transl., The Works of Virgil: Containing His Pastorals, Georgics, and Æneis. [], London: [] Jacob Tonson, [], →OCLC, page 441, lines 252–255:
      See, from afar, yon Rock that mates the Sky, / About whoſe Feet ſuch Heaps of Rubbiſh lye: / Such indigeſted Ruin; bleak and bare, / How deſart now it ſtands, expos'd in Air!
    • 1790 July, “Art. III. Mr. [James] Bruce’s Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile. [Article continued.]”, in The Monthly Review; or, Literary Journal, Enlarged, volume II, London: Printed for R[alph] Griffiths; and sold by T[homas] Becket, [], →OCLC, page 271:
      Nothing remains of Utica, excepting a heap of rubbiſh and ſmall ſtones: but the trenches and approaches of the ancient beſiegers are ſtill very perfect.

Alternative forms[edit]

Derived terms[edit]

Related terms[edit]


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rubbish (comparative more rubbish or rubbisher, superlative most rubbish or rubbishest)

  1. (chiefly Australia, New Zealand, British, Ireland, Commonwealth, colloquial) Exceedingly bad; awful.
    Synonyms: abysmal, crappy, horrendous, shitty, terrible; see also Thesaurus:bad, Thesaurus:low-quality
    This has been a rubbish day, and it’s about to get worse: my mother-in-law is coming to stay.
    • 1989 June, Phil Snout [pseudonym; Phil South], “Rage Hard”, in Matt Bielby, editor, Your Sinclair, number 42, London: Dennis Publishing, →ISSN, →OCLC, page 82, column 1:
      Disk interfaces have been around since the year dot, as people soon realised that the microdrive was unreliable, unstable and generally rubbish for the storage of anything, useless except as a rather small beermat.
    • 2014 May 6, Richard Adams, “English A-level with Russell Brand and Dizzee Rascal on reading list under fire”, in The Guardian[1]:
      A-level students will study Russell Brand's views on drugs and Caitlin Moran's Twitter feed alongside more conventional literature in a new A-level that was immediately denounced as "rubbish" by sources at the Department for Education.



rubbish (chiefly Australia, British, New Zealand, colloquial)

  1. Used to express that something is exceedingly bad, awful, or terrible.
    The one day I actually practice my violin, the teacher cancels the lesson.
    Aw, rubbish! Though at least this means you have time to play football.
  2. Used to express that what was recently said is nonsense or untrue; balderdash!, nonsense!
    Synonyms: bollocks, bullshit
    Rubbish! I did nothing of the sort!
    • 1906, Alfred Sutro, The Walls of Jericho: A Play in Four Acts, French’s Standard Library edition, New York, N.Y., London: Samuel French, →OCLC, act II, page 44:
      Rubbish, sir, rubbish! Pestilent and pernicious rubbish! An honest man must consider what he owes to his name and his rank. That is the first consideration.



rubbish (third-person singular simple present rubbishes, present participle rubbishing, simple past and past participle rubbished)

  1. (transitive, chiefly Australia, British, Ireland, New Zealand, Commonwealth, colloquial) To criticize, to denigrate, to denounce, to disparage. [from c. 1950s (Australia, New Zealand)]
    • 1977 August 17, A[rthur] J[ames] Faulkner, “Human Rights Commission Bill”, in Parliamentary Debates (Hansard): Third Session, Thirty-eighth Parliament (House of Representatives), volume 412, Wellington: E. C. Keating, government printer, published 1978, →OCLC, pages 2307–2308:
      In my judgment, it is not Christian—I think that is the proper way to put it—to rubbish the leaders of our trade union movements, both employers' and workers'. [...] The employers are quite right in rubbishing this section. The recently retired Chief Ombudsman rubbished it. The insurance guild, not exactly known as a militant trade union until recently, has rubbished it. Twenty-nine leaders in our community have rubbished it.
    • 1995, Nick Hornby, chapter 13, in High Fidelity, London: Victor Gollancz, →ISBN, page 122:
      We're messing around at work, the three of us, getting ready to go home and rubbishing each other's five best side one track ones of all time [...]
    • 2011, Penelope Lively, chapter 1, in How It All Began, London: Fig Tree, Penguin Books, →ISBN; republished New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 2012, →ISBN, page 11:
      Oh, there is fuel enough for the memoirs, even if Marion's eyes glaze over, periodically, during tea or one of Corrie's rather awful lunches [...]. The names flow forth, and are rubbished or extolled, [...]
    • 2012, Melanie Milburne, chapter 1, in The Virgin’s Price, London: Mill & Boon Sexy, →ISBN:
      'It's the first real acting job I've had and he completely rubbishes it. My career will be over before it even starts.' / 'I wouldn't take it too personally,' Shelley said as she reloaded the café dishwasher. 'Bryn Dwyer rubbishes just about everything. [...']
    • 2020 May 20, Barry Doe, “McLoughlin unfair with opinion of late-BR rail”, in Rail, page 65:
      Such irresponsible comments seem to me clearly an attempt for political reasons to rubbish a past that was of a far better quality than anything that exists today.
    • 2023 July 15, Josh Noble, quoting Delia Smith, “‘Life is not a bowl of cherries’”, in FT Weekend, Life & Arts, page 3:
      Delia's Complete Cookery Course is still in print more than 40 years since its first publication. “Everybody did rubbish it,” she says.
  2. (Australia, Hong Kong) To litter.
    • 1999 December 1, Cheng Chun-ping, quotee, “Special TV programme to disseminate keep clean messages”, in (Please provide the book title or journal name)[2]:
      Speaking at today's (Tuesday) press conference to announce details of the show, Chairman of the Steering Committee, Mr Cheng Chun-ping urged members of the public to sustain their keep clean efforts and to let the message of the campaign slogan -- "There is never any excuse to rubbish your home" stride across the new Millennium.
    • 2007 March 8, Tika Viker-Bloss, “How to tackle the rising tide of litter in filthy Britain”, in The Guardian[3]:
      In the 1970s there was a hugely successful campaign using the slogan: "You wouldn't rubbish your home. Australia's your home. Don't rubbish Australia." The adverts compared tossing table scraps on to the carpet with throwing food packaging from a car. It worked.

Derived terms[edit]



  1. ^ rǒbǒus, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 27 December 2018.
  2. ^ rubbish, n., adj., and int.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2011; rubbish”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  3. ^ rubbish, v.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2011.

Further reading[edit]