Goodbye, cruel word

Last night, I lay down in bed, and for a moment exhaustion overwhelmed me. I thought, “Wow, God, I’m just here like a sack of potatoes.”

Then, because my body can be exhausted without involving my brain, I began thinking about sacks.

One of the unnoticed losses of the modern manufacturing era is the sack. Sacks are useful and reusable, but they’re also more expensive than their replacement, the paper bag. Items which always came in sacks when sold at the feed shop or the mercantile are now on the shelves at Food Plus in paper bags.

Potatoes. Flour. Onions. Oats. They’re all in paper bags or plastic bags. Coffee beans are in those non-breathable semi-plastic bags.

Consequently, “sack” simply isn’t in daily usage any longer. “Knapsack” is now just a “back pack.” (Not even a book bag, as I discovered last week. “Kiddo#2, you’re standing on your book bag.” “What’s a book bag?” “Look under your feet!” etc.)

“Sacked out” means “asleep,” and that has nothing to do with bags woven of coarse fibers.

“Hackey sack” is the closest it comes to being in usage, but it’s kind of a nonsense word for a toy nowadays, like Frisbee and Slinky. They’re not really sacks any longer, anyhow.

Language evolves. Human needs and habits change. And so, without fanfare, another word dies.


  1. Capt Cardor

    Is this what they mean by “Sacks” appeal?

  2. philangelus


    I expected you to say something about Goldman-Sachs or Sachs Fifth Avenue. 🙂

  3. Ivy

    If you want a sack, I can point you to some fine patterns. I crocheted a blue one in bulky weight cotton a few years back and it’s fabulous for storing yarn.

  4. philangelus

    Sacks *are* fabulous, which is why it’s sad they’ve vanished from everyday use and everyday language.

    Oh, how about “a sad sack”? That’s going away too now that sacks in general are gone.

  5. ArtK

    When teaching writing, my son’s 3rd grade teacher had a space on a bulletin board for Worn Out Words (WOW.) The idea was to get the kids to expand their vocabularies — they had to find alternatives for the worn out words in their writing. This wasn’t a teacher-dictated list, either. The kids nominated words to go on the board.

    It’s too early in the morning here, and I haven’t had my coffee, so no sack-puns are forthcoming. Your other commentors will be left holding the bag, I guess.

  6. Capt Cardor

    I’ve been pondering this entry for a few days and I think that words are more supple than you might think. In the middle west and the south people ask for their groceries in a paper sack. Throughout the country, if you ask a young man about the word sack, he will tell you it means to rush and knock down the opposing quarterback in football.

    A sad sack in the 1920’s and 30’s was a homeless person, a hobo who had to cover himself (or herself) in a burlap sack at night to stay warm. By the 1940’s a sad sack became a comic strip figure. “The Sad Sack” was an army private who couldn’t seem to get anything right. Perhaps intentionally.

    He was the precursor to Beetle Bailey as an anti-authoritarian figure, in the tradition of Jaroslav Hasek’s “Good Soldier Schweik”
    and Hans Helmut Kirst’s “Gunner Asch”. In 1950’s US TV there was “Sgt Bilko”

    In anime the “Irresponsible Captain Tyler” is keeping the trope alive.

    So sack is not really dead. It is transmuting into other forms. Hopefully, in this difficult economy, I hope that no one at this site “gets the sack” from their job.

  7. AnotherFaceInTheCrowd

    Sacks haven’t died, nor gone anywhere. They’re just not units that most people buy things in any longer — at least not in the UK and US. Unless you honestly need 50 kg of product at one time because its regular procurement is a hassle, it just doesn’t make sense.

    We still bought sacks of rice, flour, wheat, sugar, fishmeal, chickenfeed — no potatoes though, they don’t do well being bagged up in bulk in the tropics. Oh yeah and cement mix. Can’t forget that.

  8. Pingback: words over time « Seven angels, four kids, one family

  9. Pingback: Spucket « Seven angels, four kids, one family