How many different meanings do you suppose there are for the word junk? A cursory review of any daily newspaper is bound to emit a handful of junk’s with as many meanings. Depending on the context, junk can refer to illegal drugs, large anatomical parts, useless information, unhealthy food, and of course, junk: “discarded material, some of which may be reused in some form”. That’s quite a journey from the word’s centuries-old roots.
It prompts the question – has junk had a bad rap?
As a writer who works in the junk business I can vouch for the power and perception of this word. I once had a communications professional from a company 1-800-GOT-JUNK? partnered with express concern about joint PR initiatives because of the word junk. Another time a concerned parent refused to let her daughter wear the soccer team sponsored jersey because it bore the company slogan, “Powered by Junk” (with appropriate company logo and clear illustrations of the green initiatives that power the business).
Then I recall the happy times when I’ve been approached by pastors who requested a company truck be parked outside the church in recognition of a sermon on “getting rid of the junk in your life.” And yes, that’s junk, in the “it’s-time-to-purge-your-issues” sense. And there you have it – another meaning for the 656-year-old word, junk.
The etymology of junk is Middle English (jonk), dating back to the 14th Century, when it meant an old rope or cable. It was nautical terminology. Sailors had to find ways of reusing ropes because it could be a long time before they would get new supplies. So jonk became the term for reusable ropes, then cables, and finally other items that were discarded on the ship, but had reuse value.
Hmmm…I like that. It really jives with my own definition of junk.