I'm Bac!

Though by now you have probably, and understandably, gone away. However, it's just about spring, time for this space to re-flower, after a pause that turned into an unintentional winter hiatus.

Bac means a bin; it's used for the open bins in which records--now CDs or DVDs--are displayed and sold, for rubbish bins, for recycling bins on which one sees written Ce bac est réservé pour le tri, and for various other sorts of containers and tubs, such as a vegetable bin in a fridge--bac à légumes--or the tub of a sink--évier à deux bacs, for example.

It also means "boat," especially a flat ferry-boat type of vessel, but I haven't yet come across this in context. Here on Lyon's rivers we have barges or péniches.

Somehow I thought bac was a modern word, but it has ancient origins. From vulgar Latin baccu or baccos, recipient, it seems to have originally been a Gallic word for "boat," and it has a Breton cognate, bag, plural bigi, boat/s.  Over the centuries it expanded from "boat" to other kinds of containers.

I started wondering whether our modern English "bag" comes from an ancient British cognate of the Breton bag. A bag is also a kind of container, after all. But not so, according to the OED. The early Middle English word bagge "possibly" came from Old Norse baggi. There was also Old French bague and Provençal bagua, "baggage," and medieval Latin baga,"chest" or "sack."  But it's not clear where any of these came from, nor their relationship to each other, and there seems to be no connection with the Breton bag at all.

More etymological mystery. But back to bac and ce bac est réservé pour le tri: le tri is a short form of triage so of course means "sorting," used particularly of sorting rubbish for recycling. In my building there is a rubbish room with grey bacs for rubbish and green ones for recyclables. This not-so-fragrant locale poubelles--first mentioned here last February, a year ago, heavens!--is used by the restaurant and shoe shop workers as well as by other flat-dwellers, and so there's rubbish of all sorts. Cardboard boxes and bits of card from inside boots seem to be thrown willy-nilly into the bacs pour le tri and it's not clear whether you are meant to separate paper from plastic from cardboard or whether it's Ok for it to just all go in pell-mell. As it does.

Glass, however, must be taken to special big oval containers--not bacs but silos, I learn from the city's website--on the streets. You push your bottles and jars piece by piece through a rubber-edged hole in the container's side; each one makes a satisfying crash on impact. This process takes quite a long time when performed by bleary-eyed young men emptying bags full of bottles the morning after the night before.