Hopefully, like me, you are a word geek that adores spending inordinate amounts of time focusing on a particular phrase. If so, you may appreciate the Ngram View above which the embedded link reveals as an interactive graph. Also noting that Ash heap of History has its own Wikipedia entry will give a cursory introduction to the phrase in question. Still want more? Then read this great post from 2011 about the origins and permutations of the phrase.
For it is wise to remember that when using the Ngram, while a great tool, it can only track phrases and words in books, and the 5.2 million books that Google has scanned specifically. It does not capture other sources of historical media – notably Newspapers, Scholarly articles, and the like that would have been prevalent albeit ephemeral. Considering that, every phrase, linguistically-speaking, can become a folk tale unto itself with its own origin story.
The “sourced citation” in the above post was too precocious not to include here:
The cited source seems to be Augustine Birrell, “Carlyle”, in Obiter Dicta, 1884:
Imaginary joys and sorrows may extort from him nothing but grunts and snorts; but let him only worry out for himself, from that great dust-heap called ‘history,’ some undoubted fact of human and tender interest, and, however small it may be, relating possibly to some one hardly known, and playing but a small part in the events he is recording, and he will wax amazingly sentimental, and perhaps shed as many real tears as Sterne or Dickens do sham ones over their figments.
Any jab at Dickens is money and time well spent. Personally, it is easy to recognize why socialists would employ the dust-bin metaphor replete with its proletariat imagery, something so palpable. Anyone with dirty hands, taking care of things, doing something can relate to. Of course I’d hate to admit the first time it was brought to my attention was Reagan’s ironic use of it in his speech about communism. Yet recently referring to Baudrillard’s dustbin in a bit of writing reminded me of the more entrenched idea it holds on my imagination. That is why it seems to still be gaining in use – despite the fact that no one even knows what a dustbin is these days.
Do you use this phrase? If so, ever wondered about its origins as I did? Please tell me in the comments below, which are open for your own theories as well.