First Aid in English (I): that’s a suitcase and not ‘a luggage’

Published: June 27, 2014 at 1:31am


Malta Today is running a story about “a suspicious luggage” left outside the Palestinian embassy. The author is obviously not Raphael Vassallo, son of a professor of English, but that John Pisani, a rescue-dog from L-Orizzont’s pound.

The now nearly ubiquitous Maltese use of ‘luggage’ in substitute for ‘suitcase’ drives me berserk. When it is used with the indefinite article, it is all I can do to stop myself climbing the walls with irritation. When it is used in the plural – LUGGAGES – I have to walk off for a nice, stiff coffee.

A luggage. I bought a nice luggage yesterday. Wait, ta, ghax my luggage is really heavy. Il-la what a lot of luggages you have with you.

Now listen up for yet another lesson in English for Maltese people, and if this makes me sound like an antipatika, quite frankly at this point I don’t give a damn, because where do people get off speaking a language without bothering to learn it first?

‘Luggage’ is what is known as a mass noun. In other words, it is the name used for a mass of particular things, in this case, bags and suitcases.

It’s not a collective noun, because a collective noun takes the definite or indefinite article, as in ‘a gaggle of geese’. You do not say ‘a luggage of suitcases’ but simply, luggage.

You cannot have ‘a luggage’ because luggage by definition means more than one bag or suitcase. You most certainly cannot have LUGGAGES.

That thing in which you pack your stuff for travelling? That’s a SUITCASE. Or a BAG.

Does anybody in Malta know what a suitcase is? I ask because nowadays when I say ‘suitcase’ or ‘bag’ I get stared at. You never hear the word used at all. Bagalja = ‘a luggage’.

What’s really scary is that even people who grew up speaking proper English, with parents who had suitcases and not ‘luggages’, are now calling that thing they pull along, with their clothes packed inside, ‘my luggage’. You look, and there’s only just the one bag.

It makes me wonder why they think baggage handlers at the airport are called baggage handlers and not BAGGAGES HANDLERS.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest…

35 Comments Comment

    • el bandido guapo says:

      You missed the other one.

      A “luggage” or a suitcase can never be a false alarm. Or any alarm at all.

  1. H.P. Baxxter says:

    Don’t make me do it!

    Be careful that no luggages follonyou since dey may have moved during the flight.

    Of such stuff is my country made.

  2. ken il malti says:

    Speaking of luggage, ever wonder why those fragile valuables end up smashed to smithereens when you come home from the airport?

  3. M says:

    Reminded me of ‘is-slipper’ (joggers) grrrrr!

  4. one of us says:

    Please, please give another lesson in English. A lamp base and shade are two separate things! 90% of Malta say lampshade when they mean base and shade.

  5. Oh Yeah says:

    Daphne, kudos to you for the excellent article you wrote on The Malta Independent regarding breastfeeding. Is it possible for you to post it here? Thank you.

  6. Gee Dee says:

    I think it is time to start charging such incompetent idiots like Pisani for trying to give them lessons in the english language. Not that I have high hopes that they will learn anything.

  7. Mike says:

    Also it’s Palestinian Embassy!

  8. Amanda says:

    One of my personal bugbears – I think I will print a million copies of this article to avoid getting hoarse trying to explain.

  9. Chris says:

    Whilst you are quite correct, I must disagree that luggage is ‘More than one bag or suitcase.’.

    Let us not forget one of Terry Pratchett’s most loveable charcters: The Luggage, a rather large chest with a propensity to eat things (and people) it does not like.

    Admittedly Terry is using the definite article before this noun, and The Luggage has approximately 1,000 tiny feet to get around with which would give it a rather priviledged status in the English Language.

    I think it is best to say that luggage is something that is lugged, particularly for travel purposes.

  10. Felix says:

    I love your lessons on the proper use of English words. Give us more, when you get the chance.

  11. Corinne Vella says:

    On the subject of bags, suitcases, etc., if anyone has any they no longer use or need, contact

    Or email me at [email protected] and I’ll pass on the message.

    Bags and suitcases are useful storage for people who have no furniture in their rudimentary homes, other than a bunk bed.

  12. David Meilak says:

    On Radio 101 they have been transmitting this advert for some kind of foot/hand cream. They get to a point where they mention the benefits of the cream being advertised.

    The advert is in Maltese and they say that the cream is good for those ‘li jilbsu il-bwiets’.

    From what I understand ‘bwiets’ is supposed to be plural for ‘boots’.

    Believe me I anticipate the advert and change the radio station each time as I can’t take this any more.

  13. Sister Ray says:

    I think the term “hand-luggage” has contributed to the confusion. Hand luggage refers to a number of smaller bags that a passenger may carry on board a plane, but then most airlines only allow passengers travelling economy class to carry one bag.

  14. Chris M says:

    A luggage bag or luggage booth is called so because it is designed to hold luggage, luggage being the contents of the case, bag or suitcase.

  15. M says:

    Please allow for this comment on a different topic.

    The headline of an article in the Times to-day:

    ‘Thursday, June 26, 2014, 20:18 by Juan Ameen
    Sightseeing bus drivers warn about standing up’

    when what the news actually is and what is said much later in the article is :
    ‘On Sunday afternoon, a 66-year-old Briton was grievously injured when he stood up on one of the company’s buses as it passed under a pedestrian footbridge in Bay Street.
    He hit his head and fell back on to the bus, also breaking his leg.’

    Really! As a non-journalist I would really like to know if that make any sense or if it is simply obeying the positive articles only policy.

  16. Tim Ripard says:

    I prefer the term uncountable noun, actually, which is why you can’t use it with ‘a’, the singular form of the indefinite article. But what can we do? The world has opted for quantity and definitely not for quality when it comes to communication. I’m with you in trying to stem the tide of language destruction but we are few, too few.

  17. Freedom5 says:

    Raphael Vassallo may write correctly , but most of his articles are long winded nonsense – so irritating.

  18. Andy Pandy says:

    Daphne, you should set up a weekly ‘lesson’ correcting Maltesenglish. There are many such luggage/sjutkase examples for you to get your teeth into, as Suarez might say.

  19. Lomax says:

    We had a school textbook called “First Aid in English”. It was the best book one could have. One could learn much from it – not only the meaning of the word “luggage”.

  20. Jozef says:

    ‘Junker set to be confirmed as Commission president by EU leaders’

    Yeah right, and what’s his first name Stuka?

  21. Angus Black says:

    Most are too much in a hurry to even finish a sentence. The above explanation on the use of the word ‘luggage’ is right on.

    When a suitcase is described as ‘luggage’ what most mean, but not bother saying, is ‘a piece of luggage’.

    A suitcase is ‘a piece of luggage’ when it is accompanied by other suitcases making up the luggage.

    Luggage handlers haul several suitcases at a time. They are usually not needed when a passenger has only a suitcase to carry, hence the absence of ‘suitcase handlers’.

  22. DundeeG says:

    Perhaps they are so lazy they just paste their Maltese written article into “Google Translate”?

  23. M Galea says:

    Thanks for pointing this out, Daphne. To be honest, I must confess to making this mistake myself sometimes, but I do remember being taught this at St. Aloysius College, and really wonder how I ‘slipped’ into making this mistake.

    So yes please…do share these corrections, and no….you’re not an ‘antipatika’ for pointing out this common mistake. I for one will make an effort to use ‘suitcase’ rather than ‘luggage’ when referring to one piece.

    Like I always say, your website is not only informative, but entertaining and educational too. Thanks again.

  24. Freedom5 says:

    It may well be that the Maltese don’t travel light and carry a minimum of two suitcases per person, hence luggage morphed into standard use as it’s never one suitcase . :) Please allow this smiley.

  25. Andy says:

    It seems people like making up words. Just like the “Christmas Father”. Another one I have always been curious about is the word “overspeeding”. I couldn’t find it in the dictionary. Just “speeding” was the word I learnt.

    • Grezz says:

      With the advent of American television channels, parents brought up saying “Christmas Father” are now saying … “Santa Claus” as well as “awesome!”, but that’s an entirely different matter.

  26. The Queen's English says:

    The problem with Maltese-speakers when it comes to words like ‘luggage’ is that they do not understand the concept of an uncountable noun because it does not exist in Maltese.

    You cannot say things like ‘a water’ in English but you can say ‘a glass of water’. The same applies to ‘luggage’. You need to define it by saying ‘a piece of luggage’, because the word is uncountable. The same thing applies to words like ‘furniture’.

  27. Hamlet says:

    “The author is obviously not Raphael Vassallo, son of a professor of English, but that John Pisani, a rescue-dog from L-Orizzont’s pound.” Hardly a study in logic, is it? Is correct English genetically transmitted?

    I hasten to add that I have the utmost respect for Prof. Peter Vassallo, a perfect gentleman and former excellent teacher and later lecturer of mine. I agree that Raphael Vassallo’s English is higher than the average of that employed in Maltese media.

    [Daphne – ‘Is correct English genetically transmitted?’ No, but it is quite obviously transmitted in the home.]

  28. H.P. Baxxter says:

    If we stretch a point and allow Saviour to push the boundaries of diplomatic practice, shouldn’t that be “Palestinian embassy”? If he were to follow his government’s own rules to the letter it would be “of the Palestinian Authority”.

  29. H.P. Baxxter says:

    Explosive ORDNANCE.

    That John Pisani is a total cretin, a moron, an idiot, and pea-brained illiterate who shouldn’t even be hired to scrape a turd off the editor’s boot.

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