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noun [uncountable]

the study of how the contents of a person's shopping trolley show something about that person's behaviour or personality


noun [countable]

'I saw a really good-looking man in the supermarket recently, but I was turned off when I peered into his basket and realised it was packed with lager and frozen hamburgers. He smacked of being a slob who spent his life in front of the TV watching football. … It is called “trolleyology” – making judgements about people from their shopping.'

The Mirror January 1997

a man who wants to convince people he loves the finer things in life should fill his trolley with smoked salmon, brandy and tins of dog food

The term trolleyology was originally coined by American anthropologists. It describes those evaluative glances of other people's purchases which we've all made at some stage or other, either in the shopping aisles or at the checkout. The idea is that what you put in your supermarket basket or trolley in some way shows something about your personality and behavioural patterns. If your trolley is full of junk and convenience food, then maybe you don't like cooking or don't have a kitchen. If it's full of crème fraîche and fresh herbs, then the chances are you're some kind of amateur gourmet, or you live with someone who is.

Trolleyology has become a real craze in America, and in popular magazines or on the Internet, we can see it being discussed as a means for people to find out whether someone is their ideal partner, or indeed for portraying a particular impression of your personality to potential partners. For instance, anyone with economy brands in their trolley is out; they are likely to be poor or second rate. Trolleys full of organic produce are good, since they show that the person looks after themselves. Trolleys containing two different brands of toothpaste are likely to indicate that the person already has a partner.

A man who wants to convince people he loves the finer things in life should fill his trolley with smoked salmon, brandy and tins of dog food. If he wants to show he is steady and reliable, he should heap his trolley with Brussels sprouts.

Of course, one thing that trolleyology can't do is reliably predict whether people will be physically attracted to each other, since there's always the chance that someone else is pushing their trolley for them!

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 31st March 2003.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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