yard sales, car boot sales and other sales

Getting back to Kelley of Delaware's queries (which I started answering here):
Every weekend this time of year there are dozens of yard/garage sales in my town. Do such things exist in the rest of the English-speaking world, and, if so, what are they called?
I can't speak for the rest of the English-speaking world, but similar things do exist (to some degree) in England, though not by the names yard sale or garage sale. These things are allegedly named after the locations in which they occur, however the ones I've passed by this week (in NY state) that have been advertised as 'yard sales' or 'garage sales' were mostly actually in (chiefly AmE) driveways (BrE drives) next to (AmE) yards or garages. AmE has other terms for such kinds of sales, including tag sale (popular in New England). Many of these terms can be seen at the Dialect Survey map here.

(Side note: The pronunciation of garage was a point of discussion at dinner tonight. Better Half's mum said it in her normal way, so that it rhymed with HAIR ridge carriage, and my mom expressed her admiration of BHM's unfamiliar pronunciation. BHM countered that the AmE (and sometimes preferred BrE) pronunciation gər-RAZH was nicer. Garage is one of the few words (maybe the only word?) that BrE speakers have complimented my (AmE) pronunciation of. This is another case in which the AmE pronunciation is closer to the original [French] pronunciation than the BrE--which only matters if you're one of those people who think 'older' means 'better'.)

Of course, part of the reason that people don't have yard sales in Britain is that they would not call the un-built-upon fronts of their properties yards. That would instead be the front garden (at least, if it's planted). (This was a point of contention between an American and an English friend this summer. The American kept calling the Englishwoman's garden a yard, and the Englishwoman kept letting the American know that she felt insulted by this description.) Nevertheless, there is nothing called a front garden sale either. I've not seen many sales of household merchandise on/in residential properties in the UK, but those that I have seen have been advertised as moving sales. Obviously, that term only applies to certain situations, when people are trying to get rid of things that they don't want to cart to their new abode. There may be a term for non-moving household sales that I've not come across. (Answers in the comments, please!) But these kinds of things are pretty rare--at least in my neck of the English woods.

What the UK does have (and the US generally doesn't) are car boot sales. These take place in public spaces, usually a (BrE) car park/(AmE) parking lot [or a field--see comments]. People put the things that they want to sell into their car's (BrE) boot/(AmE) trunk, then set up a little stall of their wares (often using a folding table, etc.) by their car in the car park/parking lot (typically paying a fee to the organi{s/z}er/landowner). These happen all year round--there is one that happens every week, for example, at Brighton station. Big ones like that often have professional sellers, who may be selling new or used goods (so they resemble flea markets). Others, like the one at a school near our house, are more geared toward(s) the occasional seller.

Both countries have other types of sales in which people donate their used goods for a one-off sale (and possibly social event) to benefit a charity--for example a church. In the greater part of the US, these are called rummage sales, although they may have other regional names. In the UK, they are jumble sales. White elephant sale is a term that I heard as a child in the US (and it was already old-fashioned at that time), but that I've seen more often in the UK.

When I asked Better Half if he knew of any BrE equivalent of yard sale, he drew a blank and noted that such things are a rarity in Britain. One reason for this is that most British homeowners wouldn't have the space for such things. Front gardens/yards tend to be very small, drive(way)s are quite short, and garages are a luxury in town cent{er/re}s. Another reason is that most British homeowners just don't have the space to store as much unwanted junk for as long as American homeowners can--and thus they can't store up a sale's worth of merchandise. BH's mum, for example, has a good-sized three-bedroom house. But as is typical of a post-war London home, she has no basement, no attic to speak of, no garage, and no walk-in closets. In that situation, one doesn't wait long to get rid of clothes that don't fit, gifts that didn't hit the mark, and decorations that have been replaced. People have various ways to get rid of unwanted stuff (and, it must be said, they tend to buy less junk in the first place), with charity shops (AmE: thrift stores) playing a major part in the second-hand economy.


  1. I think I have seen more ‘garage sales’ (as I would call them in MY version of BrE) recently. They are still occasional things, but I really can’t remember seeing anything similar as a child. In this case, as we were taking a stroll along the seafront we saw a couple of women in their garden with a load of items spread out. I don’t know if the pre-advertised it (I suspect not) - but from what I can recall, I think they just had a sign outside that said ‘Sale’ – although my memory isn’t really clear and it might just have been ‘for sale’ signs on an item or two.

    I think I have seen as many (if not more) of this type of sale run by children selling their old toys – rather than run by adults. Perhaps another sign of children being more readily influenced by whet they have seen in American films or TV?

    I have also noticed an increase in the number of items advertised for sale outside someone’s house. I have regularly seen cars with hand made (or computer generated) for sale signs sitting outside peoples houses, however recently I have seen cars with commercial style ‘for sale’ signs and prices stuck to the inside of the window sitting outside people’s houses. I have also seen the occasional motor bike, many push bikes and a few push chairs (all securely chained to a front fence) with prices or ‘for sale’ signs – and other signs urging me to ‘knock on the door’.

    1. In America there are tons of cars with For Sale signs in the windows, but there’s always a phone number to call, not a note to knock on the door that I’ve seen. I haven’t seen any bikes/motorcycles advertised for sale this way. There are always garage/tag/yard sales, though! They are also often held on the first Saturday of a month, and since this is a known fact, many people go out looking for these sales on first Saturdays. It’s so interesting to learn these differences!

  2. How about estate sales? There seemed to be lots of them in the U.S. but I haven't really heard about any here in Glasgow, possibly because I wouldn't know where to look, and ads for these sorts of things are not taped to telephone poles around here!

  3. 20 years ago in Ireland I had a "garage sale" to sell off my Lego. It was in the garage.

    They have "garage sales" all the time in Australia: American-style big houses, reliable sunny weather for outdoor events; and a national enthusiasm for saving money and finding bargains. You see the handmade signs with directional arrows at many suburban intersections.

    I don't like your "GAIR-idge" respelling: those of us who stress the first syllable of "garage" use the vowel of "marry" rather than that of "Mary". For most Americans these sound the same.

    I haven't been to a "jumble sale" in years, but as I recall, they have categorized stalls (books, records, etc), with the miscellaneous junk sold at the "white elephant stall".

  4. I say 'garage' like 'gar' in 'garrison' and 'idge' like 'sandwich'. Ga-ridge.

    In my experience jumble sales always have a White Elephant table, which is where you put stuff you can't find any other place for.

  5. I was totally unaware of the joys of yard/garage/moving/estate sales until my Texan wife introduced me to them. She has a passion for them, and we often manage to buy really quite splendid things at them. In fact, I think we must have broken some sort of record by actually buying our house at one: April was at a yardsale in front of a trailer house, over heard the woman saying she was selling the trailer, and we paid her $1500 for it, brand new roof, brand new wiring and all. You can hear what is more or less a radio yardsale at www.kshn.com at 10.30am Central time, 4.30pm UK time, every day from Monday to Friday. People on there sell everything from free kittens to houses and land, and pygmy goats are an unaccountable favourite.

  6. My locality is firmly in "tag sale" territory, and "flea markets" are what I think of when I hear 'jumble sale."

    I use /gər-ADG/ as, if not more often than /gər-AZH/ albeit I consider the latter to be more 'correct' or standard.

  7. The term "tailgate sale" (analogous to "tailgate party" seems to have some currency in North America, particularly in the West where people are more likely to have pickup trucks with tailgates.

  8. I've also definitely heard more than one US speaker say 'grodge,' by the way. I won't name names, though.

  9. I try to do rhyming pronunciations here, because many readers won't know the International Phonetic Alphabet.

    I've just asked BH's family, and they suggest that 'carriage' rhymes with 'garage', so I'll change it in the post...

  10. The Boot sales more remind me of American Flea Markets...though in Flea Markets the sellers are rarely just people who pile stuff in their boots/trunks and are more often antique or collectible salesmen/women, be they professional or amateur.
    For example, I once bought a well preserved collectible glass that I had when I was little from some guy at one stall, but then bought a nice camping knife from a sword/knife salesman right next door.

  11. I live in the West, and I've never heard "tailgate sale", though I swear I saw signs for "gate sales" in Hoboken, NJ, where most of the houses have a tiny concrete front yard surrounded by a knee-high chain link fence and gate.

    "Grodge" (or maybe "gurrodge") is definitely much more common in the US than "gairrage".

  12. The Welsh language has taken the BrE pronunciation of "garage" to its logical conclusion, and spells the word as "garej".

  13. New Zealand had garage slaes. But now its probably all sold online (trademe.co.nz). We even sold our old carpet online $60 for a houselot. As they took it away (thats usually the deal with large or bulky items) it "saved" me a further $300 in tip fees (refuse tip/dump), petrol, trailer hire.

    I, too, understood White elephant to be the table(s) with "other" items on it at a jumble sale. Main tables/spaces are cakes/preserves, books, records/tapes/CDs, toys, clothing, plants, furniture and of course face-painting.

  14. I've seen garage sales in the UK, advertised as such, though I think it's a phenomenon of the last decade. Here in Sussex people may sell unwanted household goods via an ad in Friday-Ad, a free magazine with small-ads.

    Lynneguist's description of UK car boot sales (in car parks) corresponds exclusively to the urban variety. We country folk know only of car boot sales in fields. They're advertised in advance via home-made roadside placards.

  15. re Yard being insulting.
    I would say that in the UK this comes from the image that Yard evokes. Back to back terrace housing mostly Victorian and older, with a small (not big enough to swing a cat) paved yard in the rear. People would do the weekly washing in a large tub in the yard. This housing is traditionally seen as being for the working class. So I suspect that may well be why someone would take exception to having their beautiful garden described as a yard.

    Mark D

  16. What Mark D said. Yard implies small (squarish) paved area. To me it evokes such a thing surrounded by a chain fence, as in a prison or fpr outdoor urban sport.

    As for garage, I tend to switch between pronunciations as a result of my binational upbringing. I tend to describe a places where you put cars as "gararge" (non-rhotic, of course), while a place where you get your car fixed is a "garridge". I'm not entirely consistent, however.

  17. The car boot sale sounds to me like a (AmE) swap meet. Someone else mentioned flea markets, and think these are more or less the same thing. I think the original idea was ordinary people selling their unwanted stuff, yard-sale style but with everyone in one place, but as someone pointed out they've been largely taken over by people who make a living selling used stuff. The same thing has started to happen to yard sales, to a smaller degree. If you pay attention to yard sales, you start to notice a few locations that have a yard sale every week, and often have many more of a type of item than one family could plausibly have accumulated. It's a way of running a junk shop without paying rent.

  18. There is an episode of Hancock's Half Hour (1950s radio comedy) in which Tony Hancock has the following exchange with a policeman (played haughtily by Kenneth Williams) who wants the car moved off the road.

    Policeman: "Well put it in a garage" (spoken in an exasperated working-class accent, rhyming with carriage)
    Hancock: "I have not got a garage" (spoken in a faux-upper class accent, rhyming with barrage)

    The act of pronouncing it to rhyme with barrage, after someone has just pronounced it to rhyme with carriage, is heavily weighted with social commentary.

  19. At least in the places I've lived, a swap meet is usually confined to a specific type of item, e.g. bicycles or cameras or electronics.

    The American equivalent of a 'car boot' would be the 'trunk,' but a trunk sale is unrelated to this type of event.

  20. I've lived in Hong Kong for over 30 years, so I don't know if the term is still used, but when I was a child in England "bring-and-buy sales" were common. Usually they were to raise funds for organisations such as a Scout troop or Parent-Teacher Association. Every member (or parent of a member) was expected to donate something saleable and to buy some of the stuff donated by others. Is there an American equivalent?

  21. I live in California, and here a swap meet is definitely a sell-anything event. For some reason, they tend to be held in the parking lots of old drive-in theaters.

  22. "Private Beach said...
    Usually they were to raise funds for organisations such as a Scout troop or Parent-Teacher Association. Every member (or parent of a member) was expected to donate something saleable and to buy some of the stuff donated by others. Is there an American equivalent?"
    There is, but usually it all falls under the term Yard or Garage Sale. Something like that could be called a "Rummage Sale" as well, as it is not all stuff from one person...or even a "Charity Sale" which would also be an umbrella term.
    But more often than not, when we have a sale that matches what you are talking about it would be a Bake Sale where it would be food items.

  23. Just a further comment on yards and back-to-back housing. True back to back housing, as seen in cities such as Leeds does not have back yards - as the houses literally back onto one another - the wall is shared.

  24. I grew up in the US state of Delaware. We had yard/garage sales, but also tag or turnkey sales. These were unique in that they were sales of no longer wanted items sold inside the house after the owner moved (or died). Everything that was left in the house had a price tag put on it. At the end of the day(s), everything that was left was removed and the house was cleaned by the person running the tag sale (an entrepreneur). Thus, someone moving out of a house who didn't have the inclination to hold a yard sale could leave behind everything they no longer wanted, turn the key in the lock, and walk away. I don't know if they took a percentage of the profits, but they didn't have the headache of throwing away all the stuff, or trying to donate it to different groups, and they didn't have to clean the house. It was more popular with upper middle class homeowners, or the elderly, who probably would consider it beneath them to have a yard sale. The draw for the shopper was that the quality of the stuff was usually nicer than the average clean-out-the-basement yard sale. The person running the tag sale could save any or all of the leftovers and display it at future tag sales in the hopes it would sell eventually.
    Yard and garage sales, rummage sales (almost always in churches), and flea markets are very popular where I live now in SE Pennsylvania. Especially popular are several blocks of a street having yard sales on one day, or entire neighborhoods. I think much of the enthusiasm comes from the tremendous popularity of the TV show "Antiques Roadshow." Everyone thinks they're going to buy some valuable treasure for a song (next to nothing) at a yard sale. I have occasionally seen the words "estate sale" used, but I have no idea whether that means something special or not. I think of an estate being a very large, expensive house, and the places where I've seen these signs don't fall into that category. It could be done just to get attention.
    I heartily agreed that many Americans buy way too much stuff and have way too little regard for what will become of it all when their affection for it wanes. Only a small proportion of the country embraces the idea of holding on to things for a long time and getting by with less.

  25. I was about to suggest estate sale as a less regional version of what you're calling a turnkey sale, but I don't think that the customs surrounding them are necessarily exactly the same. The estate in estate sale refers to the 'estate' (worldly goods) of the deceased, not to a manor house or any such thing.

  26. Regarding the pronunciation of garage, I was talking to a Canadian colleague here in London about it. I say it as one syllable 'graj' (shades of my youth in Western PA, USA). He referred me onto your site actually in search of this particular topic.

  27. Your "car boot sales" sound like the American "flea market" that I used to see in California, but possibly more informal. Flea markets would happen in a particular place. Dealers might set up booths at a flea market. I think "swap meets" were more of an occasional thing, but I haven't been to any of those. In Wisconsin we have a lot of garage sales, or maybe yard sales. "Estate sales" tend to be events that happen when someone dies and their relatives want to sell almost everything in the person's house. Sometimes a company is hired to run an estate sale. Often it happens on Saturday and Sunday, and sometimes the prices are lower on Sunday.

  28. Hello there!

    I found this article really interesting. As a Brit, I was wondering why Americans so often talk of estate sales yet I have never seen, or even heard, of anything similar here.

    The success of Ebay and Gumtree has brought second hand goods (furniture especially) more accessible to UK buyers, otherwise it's a case of scouting out the charity shops or car boot sales.

    I also think it's interesting to note that the word "yard" is used in England but it mainly describes the small concrete plots that come with terraced houses, often in Northern cities such as Manchester and Liverpool. For those who don't know, they are very small with space to hang out washing and maybe a storage shed but that's all.

    As an aside, I say "garage" to rhyme with carriage. My grandfather, who was born in 1930, favoured the "gar-aszh" pronunciation.

  29. I live in New England and you hear tag sales being referred to first and foremost as tag sales. Yard sale and garage sale are used too. Every once in a while you hear moving sale, which can be anywhere between this is the junk that we've collected in the basement to we are selling some of our genuinely useful material possessions. An estate sale is generally a more expensive version of a tag sale run by someone selling a pricier property.

    We also have a bunch of church fairs that mostly consist of white elephant and food. The white elephant is organized into different buildings/areas of the church properties into books, furniture, and then the classic White Elephant etc.

    Thrift shops/consignment shops are similar, with varying price ranges.

    And in response to the pronunciation strain of the conversation, I pronounce garage somewhere between the same way I pronounce mirage and the way I pronounce smudge. I don't think I'm very consistent...

  30. I think I normally say GArridge (informal pronunciation) or GAraazh (respectable pronunciation), but never garAAZH (French or American pronunciation). (Background: NW England but one of my parents was from the SW.)

  31. hello, we do have charity shops in the uk which sell all manner of cast off treasure at reasonable cost. I think one of the reasons we don't have garage sales is that we don't move huge distances so we take our stuff with us.
    When in the US one of my priorities is to go on a treasure hunt via estate and garage sales :)

  32. Here in Indiana we have garage (grodge) sales throughout warm weather months. These are sales in which someone sells all their unwanted "junk" in order to make way for new "stuff." When I think of a flea market, I think about professional resellers and people selling crafts and stolen items.

    I like to peruse garage sales looking for things I can resell on eBay. And, when I retire, I would like to do the same thing in the UK (summers) and Florida (winters).

    As for the word "yard" being offensive; I would hope that anyone to whom I speak would recognize that my American English includes words unique to America, just I as I realize the English don't drive on the "pavement."

  33. As someone else mentioned garage sales are very common in Australia. It should be noted that a garage sale is often not in the garage at all, and may be on the driveway, in the front yard, or even in parts of the residence. In any case it is still called a garage sale. Car boot sales are usually unheard of, though a "swap meet" would be pretty close. They usually have a single theme though (eg. car parts, antiques/collectibles, etc.)

    As for a charity/thrift shop, here they are known as "Op shops" (Op being short for opportunity).

    My pronunciation of garage is gar as in 'garrison', and age as in 'massage'.

  34. I'm an American who has lived in the UK for years, and desperately wants to know where all the estate sales are, what they are called, and how to find them - help!


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