What Is a Dumpster Fire?

Dumpster Fire — Origin of a Trendsetting Metaphor

If you’ve been online, read a newspaper or magazine, or listened to the news in the last few years, you’ve most certainly heard the phrase “dumpster fire” used to describe someone or something. This got us thinking about where this phrase came from and how it has become so popular in the media — and in life — today.

Let’s Start With Dumpsters

To understand what a dumpster fire is, you should first get to know George Dempster, the inventor of dumpsters. Dempster patented the first dumpster in 1935. The roll-off dumpsters we use today are very similar to the original Dempster Brothers Dinosaur Dumpster.

Of course, because people throw trash in dumpsters, the contents can be pretty awful. Now imagine a fire burning up that refuse. Worse? We’d say so. 

Dumpster Fire in the Dictionary

In addition to the definition, “a fire in a dumpster,” dumpster fire was formally added to the dictionary in 2018. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of dumpster fire is an utterly calamitous or mismanaged situation or occurrence. Of course the Urban Dictionary* had already added the phrase in 2008, with the definition a complete disaster or something very difficult that nobody wants to deal with

*Warning: Urban Dictionary definitions can be NSFW, so be warned that some definitions may be unsuitable for work or children.

History of “Dumpster Fire”

Over the years, the metaphorical use of the phrase dumpster fire has grown in popularity. The first time it was used dates back to 2003, in a review of a remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, by Bill Muller of The Arizona Republic. He said the movie was, “the cinematic equivalent of a dumpster fire – stinky but insignificant.” 

From there, the phrase became increasingly popular for describing poor performance by sports teams in the US. The shift to politics was inevitable. During the 2016 United States presidential election, the term was used frequently, leading to its selection as the American Dialect Society’s Word of the Year (beating out “woke”).

Often, dumpster fire is represented by two emojis or this meme-worthy gif of an actual dumpster fire.

Still Going Strong

Some descriptive phrases fall by the wayside and diminish in use. Not so, the dumpster fire.

Recent news featuring the metaphor, dumpster fire, in headlines or articles

NBC News: Was 2021 amazing or a total dumpster for you? Rate your year from start to finish

Washington Times: Year in review: 2021 has been a dumpster fire

Washington Post: “Kick this dumpster fire of a year to the curb”

Daily Mail: The competition was attacked on social media by unimpressed viewers who claimed it was a ‘dumpster fire’ in terms of productions, saying it felt like they were watching a ‘botched rehearsal’. 

Fox News: He has turned the economy into a dumpster fire

Real Dumpster Fires

Unfortunately, there have been too many reports of real dumpsters being set ablaze by accident or with criminal intent. Describing something awful as a dumpster fire is fine, but please don’t set actual fires in dumpsters! That is dangerous, illegal, and way too literal. Stick to the emojis and gifs, please.

If you need to rent a dumpster for its intended use, to throw out whatever is making your life a dumpster fire, call Oaks Dumpster Rental at 866-649-6257!