Debbie Young Asks "What Would You Do With a Trug?"

Novelist Debbie Young shares thoughts from a country garden
Have you ever been surprised at how few people know a word that you've always taken for granted?

That happened to me this week when I was working my way through suggestions and queries raised on my current work-in-progress by my extremely helpful team of beta readers.

Oh, and before we go any further, just in case you've never come across the term "beta reader", that's the book's equivalent to a test pilot - a pre-publication reader who offers feedback on a book prior to publication.

A Harvest of Words

Autumn story now available to pre-order
The work in question is the second in my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series of lighthearted classic cosy crime novels, Trick of Murder? This series will run the course of the village year from one summer to the next. Trick or Murder? spans October to November, thus incorporating both Halloween and Guy Fawkes' Night, and the tail end of the harvest season. Here's a snippet from the second chapter:

I spotted Joshua in his back garden, picking the last few runner beans from his immaculate vegetable plot. I unlocked the back door and strolled down the path to greet him, wrapping my arms about me for warmth. I wasn't sure he should have been out out gardening in this weather. He set down a trug of impressively long, straight beans and put one hand to his back.
"Good evening, my dear," he said, although it was only just gone five. I've noticed mornings and evenings start earlier when you're old. What can I do for you this fine autumn night?"
If you're already picturing the trug, go to the top of the class - but most of my beta readers made a marginal comment to the effect of "What's a trug?" 

My First Trug

I must admit, I didn't know the meaning of the word trug myself until I was about twelve, when my father acquired one. I come from a family of keen gardeners, and he was very pleased to have acquired this long, shallow, lightweight basket with a deep handle that fits nicely over your arm, enabling you to transport a generous amount of picked produce from vegetable plot to kitchen without squashing anything.

And I was pleased to have that opportunity to learn the word trug - a nice, solid Anglo-Saxon syllable that fills the mouth as pleasingly as a gobstopper. It has enough satisfying solidity for it to serve as a swear word substitute for use in polite company. "Oh, trug it!" you might say with a clear conscience.

My father's was a classic Sussex trug, made of long wooden swathes coaxed into a curve and stapled together into a shape resembling a coracle. I could easily imagine garden gnomes hijacking a trug from the vegetable plot to go boating on the garden pond. Here's everything you need to know - and more - about this kind of trug:

Alternative Trugs

But you can also make a trug from slats of wood, which have the advantage of allowing drainage, as in the picture at the top of this blog, or from wicker or willow. This one was sold to me by its maker as a flower trug:

The flat shape of this trug makes it particularly suitable for the long stems of flowers
With a love of gardening in my genes, I've had a fondness for trugs ever since I discovered them, and I felt both surprised and sorry that my erudite beta readers hadn't come across them.

My first thought was "Great! Now I've introduced them to the joy of the trug - something everyone should embrace at some point in their lives."
But then I retracted, because what's the point in having a lovely word in a book if no-one's going to understand it?
I didn't want readers to stop short in the story to rack their brains as to what a trug might be, or imagining it to be something quite other than it was. Although they might make a guess that it was some kind of receptacle, they might go off on the wrong track, perhaps thinking it was simply the collective noun for beans, similar to a swarm of bees or a murmuration of starlings.
And I wanted them to keep reading, undistracted by elitist vocabulary. 
Murdering My Darling Trugs

With reluctance I therefore consigned all mentions of the word trug to my collection of murdered darlings, deciding to save the lesson in essential garden accessories for the next time my beta reading friends visited my house. Poor Joshua has had his trug replaced with a basket, but he took it well when I broke it to him gently. He never did like beans much anyway.

The perfect summer holiday read
Best Murder in Show, the first in my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series is set at a traditional English village country show, and makes the perfect summer holiday read. It's now available in paperback from Amazon and can also be ordered from all good bookshops by quoting ISBN 978-1911223139. The ebook is available for Kindle here

Trick or Murder? will be launched at the end of August, in time to enjoy during the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, spanning the few weeks around Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night. You can preorder the ebook on Amazon now, and the paperback will be available from 21 August. 

For more information about my books and coming events, please visit my website,


What would you do with a much-loved word that you wanted to use in your writing but feared no-one else would understand it? Would you put the onus on the reader to look it up in the dictionary, or would you play safe and stick to the lowest common denominator? 

Which words have caused our readers confusion? I'd love to hear further examples!


Susan Price said…
I would have left 'trug' in. There are dictionaries.

I've had arguments like this with many editors and I always fight to keep the word. Perhaps it comes from my childhood when I read many of my parents' books as well as Kipling and Beatrice Potter, who never seemed to worry much whether children would understand a word. Nor should they have done.

I used to read with the family dictionary under one arm. It was a red-leather covered Chamber's Dictionary with tissue-fine pages. It took me an age to look any word up because my grssp of the alphabet was even shakier than now. I usually discovered many other curious words as well.

I urge you, use the wonders of self-publishing to put 'trug' back in! It's a lovely word. Why should it be lost because a few people don't know it?
Enid Richemont said…
I second that suggestion - it's a lovely word, and what's wrong with having to look it up? Adds to your vocabulary, and you can do it online. A good story will go bounding on, and it's obviously a receptacle of some kind, and if you don't know the word, check it out later and enrich your word-hoard.
Anonymous said…
I third it! Trug belongs there. Great word. My children's book The Tragickall HIstory of Henry Fowst is full of arcane Elizabethan words I was determined not to dumb down for an audience that knows instantly when it's being patronised. I tried to make sure the context either explained the words, or that they were a mystery to my characters as well (e.g., an astrolabe) until someone explained them. Children love a challenge - the only people who want to remove 'soporific' from The Flopsy Bunnies are adults, never children, especially as the splendid painting of a dozen baby rabbits lying fast asleep around a lettuce makes the meaning quite clear.
Incidentally, I love the fact that you used a coracle to describe a trug. Erm, I'm not sure that wouldn't need translation as well...
AliB said…
I agree. You can use a slang, dialect or unusual word as long as it's obvious what it means (in this case gardening container). The reader can choose whether to pass on or look it up. That said, I had objections from US readers of Kettle to the occasional Scots words but ignored them, I'm afraid!
Fran B said…
I first learned the word in France while au-pairing in a chateau in Normandy at the age of eighteen. I can't now remember the French word, but the lady who was using one translated for me. 'Eet ees a trug!'

I was no further forward but I found an old English dictionary in the chateau library.

Interestingly, my spellcheck put a red line under it just now when I typed the word! I think we need a 'Save the Trug' campaign . . .

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