Luggage or Baggage

My affection for Grammarly is well known. You can never know too much about words or punctuation or a dangling participle even if you occasionally fall off the wagon and commit a major error in print. A Grammarly post that captured my eye recently started with these intriguing words….I have baggage, but no luggage. Get it? Given I have a fair bit of both, I excitedly continued as Grammarly directed me to the Merriam Webster Dictionary site and their regularly feature Words at Play.

Words at Play tells us that “luggage” and ‘baggage” are, unusually, near perfect synonyms.They both end in the -age ending from French, meaning “action, process, or result of.” You say Baggage Claim, I say Luggage Claim. However, baggage has several additional meanings which luggage does not share.

Good old Merriam tells us baggage is the older word, coming to English from French in the 1400s. The bag- of baggage may well have derived (impossible to really tell for sure) from the English word for “sack to carry things in,” borrowed into French and then back to English again.There’s more certainty around the lug- of luggage which means “to carry laboriously,” descended from Middle English and coming from a Scandinavian word meaning “to pull by the hair.”

But here’s the thing. Says Merriam, the major difference between the two is all in the figurative meaning. We speak of emotional baggage, political baggage and personal baggage, but not of emotional or political luggage. That’s right. We don’t tend to say Hillary Clinton has political luggage. Very few people fess up to having emotional luggage.

Baggage also has another meaning where luggage does not. Baggage as  “a contemptible woman” or “prostitute” is likely derived from the Middle French word bagasse (“prostitute”) . In My Fair Lady ( A Viv musical fave)  Henry Higgins asks “Should we ask this baggage to sit down or shall we just throw her out of the window?”The more times I watch My Fair Lady, the more Henry Higgins annoys me. At another point Eliza retorts “I won’t be called a baggage. Not when I’ve offered to pay like any lady.”

I didn’t realise this was such a complicated matter until I read further. A Way With Words – an American public radio program about language examined through history, culture, and family pondered this question.  The hosts conclude that usually the word luggage specifies the container, while baggage is more likely to refer to that which is lugged inside the container.You can listen to the  complete episode  if you want to. How exciting.

Yet, perversely the Travelpro Blog confidently states “In our experience, the term “baggage” is a generic, neutral term used to describe the boxes, trunks, suitcases, people use to transport the articles they take on trips…. In addition, “baggage” has a negative connotation in the commonly used phrase “emotional baggage.”The term “luggage” also generates emotion, but with no such negativity. It’s the preferred term of satisfied users who deeply appreciate not only the bag itself, but how its highly engineered features improve their overall travel experience.” Well quite!

I think I’ll go with luggage as the container and baggage as what’s lugged literally and metaphorically. I do like a good piece of luggage  – I am addicted to my Crumpler Vis a Vis 55cm carry on – it’s seen some miles with hopefully more to come though I did draw the line at the see through version below. Moreover, I would probably not hint to my husband that the buys me a lovely new piece of baggage.

I thought I’d also go with a luggage wrap – it’s easy to do and packs a punch in the right situation, such as a going away present or someone moving into a new home, setting off for university or a table setting for the aforementioned situations.. You take a rectangular prism box, wrap it in Kraft paper, draw on the embellishments and pop on a little handle in Kraft card. Pile a few pieces off luggage one on top of the other and you have an abundant and quirky look. In this instance, I have luggage and no baggage. Got it?

The clear Vis a Vis by Crumpler. Remember to keep your smalls to the inside!


Leave a Reply