Newly defined 'dumpster fire' has Knoxville roots

If it weren't for one Knoxville family, the dumpster may not be what we know and love it as today.

"Dumpster fire" is one of the hundreds of new words being added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

But if it weren't for one Knoxville family, the dumpster may not be what we know and love it as today.

In its new sense, "dumpster fire" isn't just a dumpster on fire. It has a deeper meaning.

Merriam-Webster defines this term as "an utterly calamitous or mismanaged situation or occurrence" —aka a disaster.

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"I've never heard of a dumpster fire, nope," said 91-year-old Fountain City historian J.C. Jim Tumblin.

So "dumpster fire" may not be a term that transcends all generations.

"It'd be my prediction that it won't catch on, but I've been wrong a number of times," said Tumblin.

But catch on it did.

Derived in 2008 on Urban Dictionary, "dumpster fire" has thrived in popular culture ever since.

"Dumpster fire" is one of the newest words to call Merriam-Webster Dictionary home.

But if it weren't for Knoxville native George R. Dempster, we'd be lacking such a visual way to describe a huge mess.

"It's very doubtful that he thought it would become a common part of the language," Tumblin said.

Dempster, along with his brothers, invented the Dempster-Dumpster in 1935.

Tumblin said Dempster created it to hold scrap metal on construction sites.

The dumpster could be mechanically emptied into a garbage truck, saving time and energy.

"Construction people found it so much more convenient that it soon caught on with the garbage collection people also," Tumblin said.

The Dempster-Dumpsters revolutionized the garbage industry.

They made collection more efficient, and saved cities tons of money.

And now, what was once a brand has become a common term.

"They're still called dumpsters without a capital "D," I suppose so they don't invade his patent," Tumblin said.

Dempster himself even served as mayor of Knoxville for a few years.

So next time you use the term "dumpster fire" in a sentence, be proud to know the term has roots here in East Tennessee.