Why a Sack and a Bag are Synonymous

I never get tired of the “Ye Olde Sack and Bag” comedy routine routinely — for some reason — acted out in my life at least every couple of months and I fall prey to the skit every single time.

The routine usually starts a little something like this:  I’m in a hurry to leave a store, and the cashier behind the counter decides to exercise an implicit power grab for lingual definitions.

“Could I please have a bag for that?”  I ask, wild-eyed, but innocent.

“We don’t have bags for that,” is the bored reply.

Stopped, my eyes turn from the cashier and to a giant pile of paper bags stacked right behind her on the counter:  “You have a whole stack of paper bags right there behind you on the counter.”

“Sir,” her eyes narrow and the eyebrows come together in a centering, crease:  “Those are sacks, not bags.”

I bite my bottom lip.  This is the umpteenth time I’ve had this very argument in a store located East of the Mississippi River.  I was born in Nebraska where a bag is a sack and a sack is a bag and there’s no difference between plastic and paper.

“What’s the difference?” I ask, even though I already know the convoluted answer about to part her lips.

“A sack is paper and is made for things yay big,” her hands approximate the size of a small apple, “a bag, is yay bigger, and has handles” her hands move away from her body to moderate the size of a watermelon carried in a purse with huge straps, “and is for many things.”

I nod my head, still biting my lower lip.  I unpurse to ask, “Would a bag ever fit into a sack?”

She smiles, laughing with her eyes, “Nobody ever would sir.  It’s ass-opposite.  More than one sack in a bag?  Sure, okay.  One bag in one sack?  Never done except in upside-down-man world.”

I’m biting both of my lips now as I wonder if I have time to keep on with this tomfoolery or not.  I decide to give in and save the time of day.  “Okay, then.  Could I please have something to put that in, then?”  I point to my box of Band-Aids on the counter.

“That would be a sack?”  She’s asking me while nodding her head “yes.”

I nod my head in unison.

“I didn’t hear you sir.  Did you say you wanted a sack?”

“Sack or bag.  You decide.”  I manage to smile while biting the corner of my mouth from the inside.

She sighs, “The answer is, ‘sack,’ sir,” as she peels a paper sack from the stack and whips it through the air to open it.  My box of Band-Aids are dropped into the sack and she folds the open end down over itself into a crumpled, makeshift, handle.  “You have a good day, now.”

“Oh, and I’d like a bag for that sack.”

Her hand is wavering in mid-air holding the paper sack to to me.  “A bag for this tiny thing?”

“A bag has handles, right?  I don’t want to drop it.”

“We could have put this in a bag in the first place, sir, without wasting a sack.  Are you sure you need such a big a bag for your little sack?”  She stared at me.

“I’m quite sure, thank you.”  I stared back, smiling.

Without breaking our stare-down, she used her long fingernail to pluck a plastic bag from a silvery holder with horn-like tines and she pinched open the bag between fingerprints.  She shoved the paper sack into the plastic bag in one motion and pushed it across the counter to me.  “You have a good day now, sir,” she repeated and blinked.

“Oh, I’m already having one.”  I picked up the bag and put my hand through the cutout handles and started to walk out the door.

“Enjoy your sack.”

“Already in the bag.”

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