Thrift Store

I was watching an American TV programme or film recently, I can’t remember what exactly, when I noticed someone use the term thrift store. I’d of course heard it used many times in the past, but this time I began to wonder why this American term is so different from its British-English version, charity shop.

Store and shop I’ve already covered, but I find it very interesting that American English emphasises thrift, but but British English stresses the charity aspect.

Not to over simplify things (and I’ll state from the get go that I’m not indulging in generalisations about American people), but it does seem to neatly encapsulate some of the main differences between American culture, and its forebears in Europe.

British English emphasises that these shops are charity operations, to help those in need. But American English, in a country where capitalism and rugged individualism are inextricably woven into the national identity, emphasises the economic aspect (finding a bargain), and downplays the charity aspect (everyone can achieve the American Dream on their own).

And as much as I like knowing that buying secondhand books from a charity shop is indirectly helping people, I’ll also admit that I love getting a bargain (my favourite is still getting the full-colour edition of House of Leaves for either €2 or €3). Just as I’m sure most Americans shopping at thrift stores enjoying helping people as well as saving money.

Still, it’s interesting to think about how ideologies are transmitted through language and can still influence us, despite our individual beliefs.

3 thoughts on “Thrift Store

  1. Are your “charity shops” always raising money for a cause? Our “thrift stores” are just as likely to be operating like any other business. Some of them are run to support the charitable activities of churches or nonprofits, but others aren’t. When I buy secondhand clothes and furniture I have no expectation that I’m doing someone else a favor.


  2. Last night (1/20/21 – that’s January 20, not 20/1 to you British folks;) TCM aired a series of “Murder _______” sleuth-comedy movies from the 60’s somewhat based on Agatha Christie novels and starring a “dotty’ English woman in the character if ‘Marple”. That was just after I found this english language site. I found that I really enjoyed (in a nostalgic wat) this actress and her delivery of the vintage of English language used … so I watched 3 in a row flipping back and forth with a couple NHL games. Along the way I found myself looking up some of the words used in her dialog, to include one fron a scene where her sleuthing led her to knock on a stranger’s door to ask for “jumble” ….. go ahead, look it up like I did. In the process I found the word – rummage – which I am more familiar with but surprised to find it defined as both 1) a haphazard search for items as well as 2) a thorough search.


  3. PS

    In the early 90’s I gradually developed the habit of visiting “thrift stores”, which i more commonly refer to as Goodwill and Salvation Army outlets. The habit developed mainly from learning I could find good quality clothing by and large formerly manufactured in America proper, which i was happy to do regardless of the thriftiness because of increasingly becoming discouraged by the onslaught of cheap, chintzy, imported and ostensibly “one size fits all” apparel from China and other (at that time) labor-camp countries. In this context i define “good quality” mainly as wool or cotton sweaters, dress shirts and casual shirts & sweatpants AND not synthetic fabrics.

    Eventually i learned that proceeds from my purchases help needy people. I also could tell from simple observation that the people staffing these outlets are certainly among the needy. While i do not think of this in terms of expectations of savings, yeah, sure, i like a bargain, especially when there is a chance the proceeds will actually make it into the hands of those truly in need.


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