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.”

Posted by David Boles

David Boles was born in Nebraska and his MFA is from Columbia University in the City of New York. He is an Author, Lyricist, Playwright, Publisher, Editor, Actor, Designer, Director, Poet, Producer, and Boodle Boy for print, radio, television, film, the web and the live stage. With more than 50 books in print, David continues to write 2MM words a year. He has authored over 25K articles and published more. Read the Prairie Voice Archive at Boles.com | Buy his books at David Boles Books Writing & Publishing | Earn the world with David Boles University | Get a script doctored at Script Professor | Touch American Sign Language mastery at Hardcore ASL.


  1. This is exactly why I always take a reusable bag with me everywhere.

    Usually my argument is either not to put it in a bag because I already have it, or not to put it in a bag because I am capable of carrying it out sans bag. I have never had anyone just give me the item sans sack — or bag.🙂



    1. We use a Whole Food canvas bag when we shop for big stuff — but for incidentals and the like — we just use their branded bags/sacks because they seem to want to put out stuff inside so they can staple the receipt to it for identification and security. It’s a big bother, really. It wastes plastic and paper and staples!



      1. David,

        I have a tiny Whole Foods canvas bag. They offer them for like 99 cents or less if you get a deal on them🙂



        1. We probably have the same bag! We also have one of those large, insulated, Whole Foods bags. They keep the hot stuff hot and the cold stuff cold even when they’re all in the same bag!



  2. Hee. Gives whole new meaning to “Old Bag.” Haha!



    1. I’m glad you said it and not me! Harr!



  3. We use the canvas bags, but we usually forget them and have to buy more, either that or the things are multiplying.

    Here if you ask for a bag you’ll get asked paper or plastic? we don’t call them sacks here.



    1. Welcome to Memeingful, Mik! Great to have you with us!

      Canvas bags are much kinder to your hands than plastic if you have to walk home with your goods.

      “Sack” is still a fascination to me. I grew up with “bags” only — didn’t learn about the precise definition of “sack” until I moved to Washington, D.C.



  4. […] nothing. At no point did he even give me a head nod. I would have happily taken my purchases in a sack or a bag if he had even tried a simple hello, but this was not to […]



  5. […] When the gentleman got to Gerald, he held out his croissant, with its delicious egg waiting to be eaten — it was in a brown paper sack, or bag. […]



  6. […] pickle instead and he shuts down the conversation with his “no substitutions” rule and jams my sandwich into a sack, and then a bag, and shoos me on my […]



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