Intermediate+ Word of the Day: sack

sack (noun, verb) /sæk/ LISTEN

A sack of potatoes

A sack is a large and strong bag, and the amount that bag can hold. In more colloquial terms, it means ‘bed.’ As a verb, sack means ‘to put in a sack,’ but informally, in UK English, it also means ‘to dismiss someone from a job.’ Sack also has another meaning, mainly used in historical contexts, which is ‘to loot or pillage,’ as an army might do to a place they have conquered. The related noun is an instance of such looting.

Example sentences

  • The farm workers loaded the potatoes into the sacks.
  • We used a whole sack of oats to feed the horses.
  • I normally stay in the sack until at least 11 am on Sundays.
  • The wheat was harvested and sacked before being sold.
  • Melanie's boss sacked her when he found out that she had been stealing from the firm.

Words often used with sack

hit the sack: go to bed. Example: “I’m exhausted; I’m going to hit the sack now.” We can also use the similar term hit the hay to mean the same thing (hay is dried grass and people used to sleep on it).

get the sack (UK): get fired. Example: “Joe got the sack because he turned up late every day.”

In pop culture

Watch spoof chat show host Alan Partridge (played by Steve Coogan) sacking the leader of his house band (that’s a band that plays regularly on a TV show) here:

Did you know?

The sack race is a common event at children’s sports days. Participants have to put both their legs into a sack, which they hold up around their waists with their hands, then they have to race each other to the finish line, with their legs still in the sacks.

Other forms

sackful (noun)


Sack dates back to before the year 1000, as the Old English noun sacc, sec or sæc (Middle English sak), meaning ‘large cloth bag’ as well as sackcloth.’ It can be traced back to the Proto-Germanic sakkiz, which is a borrowing of the Latin saccus (sac), from the Greek sakko, originally borrowed from a Semitic language. Sack is related to the Middle Dutch sak, Old High German sac, Old Norse sekkr and Gothic sakkus, as well as the Old French sac, Spanish saco, Italian sacco and Hebrew saq (all meaning sac). The slang sense ‘bed’ (as in hit the sack) first appeared in the early 19th century, and was originally used by sailors. The colloquial sense ‘dismissal from work’ (as in get the sack) also dates back to the early 19th century. The verb, originally meaning ‘to put in a bag,’ dates back to the late 14th century and comes from the noun. The sense ‘to dismiss from work’ is from the mid-19th century, and developed from the related noun meaning. As a verb meaning ‘to plunder or loot’ sack dates back to the mid-16th century. It came into English from the Middle French sac, in the phrase mettre à sac (put in a bag), which was how military generals ordered troops to plunder the towns they conquered. It can be traced back to the Vulgar Latin saccare which originally meant ‘to put plundered things in a sack,’ and later simply ‘to plunder,’ also from the Latin saccus (bag).

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