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"Sacked" - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
I've been reading the TWoP recaps to catch up on the Houses that I've missed (most of season one), and in one of them, I came across the oddball comment that she'd never heard an American use the word "sacked," and thought Hugh Laurie must have been homesick and tweaked the script.

And I thought, Huh? 'Cause honestly, if I hadn't seen it on the page in HP, it's one of things I'd have been hesitant about using because, like any slang I know, I'd have assumed it had a high chance of being an Americanism. When I saw it in HP, I thought, Oh, so it's universal, good. The American Heritage Dictionary doesn't list the use as a Britishism. But then, maybe, like "dressing table" a few weeks ago, it's some oddball quirk of my own vocabulary, maybe from growing up on the Canadian border. So--dialect poll.

Poll #898122 Sacked?

On the question of "sacked" as a synonym for "having one's employment involuntarily terminated'"...

I'm an American, and I've heard it in casual conversation here.
I'm an American, and thought it was a Britishism which I needed to figure out from context.
I'm not an American, and thought it was uniquely British slang.
I'm not an American, but thought it was a common English-language idiom.
44 comments or Leave a comment
gehayi From: gehayi Date: December 31st, 2006 04:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm an American, and I know the word from a thousand or so British novels. But I'm the only American I know who uses it. And I've had to explain to other Americans that "sacked" means "fired."
author_by_night From: author_by_night Date: December 31st, 2006 04:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was pretty sure it was common usage here, but growing up in three different countries (US, Belgium where people spoke English as a second language, so used British English, and Canada), and knowing three different language usage can throw me off. I don't here it much, but I know I have heard it, but now I'm questioning myself. Plus, there's also New York/Maryland terminology - I've heard "fresh" used from people in New York/Jersey and New England, but never in Maryland.

Er... I guess the short answer is "I have no idea." ^^
ivylore From: ivylore Date: December 31st, 2006 05:16 pm (UTC) (Link)


Now there's a word which figured predominantly in my childhood. "Stop being fresh!" was one of my mother's favourite sayings. I haven't heard it in ages.

(Grew up in New England, coincidentally, and now live in Canada)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 31st, 2006 05:19 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Fresh

I mostly heard it from older people, more along the line of, "Don't you get fresh with me, young lady."
norwegianblue47 From: norwegianblue47 Date: December 31st, 2006 07:04 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Fresh

My mom said/says it to me all the time, but I live near Boston, and my mom's family is from eastern parts of Canada, so it may well be a regional thing. I don't really know if I remember hearing other people saying it.
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persephone_kore From: persephone_kore Date: December 31st, 2006 08:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
I live in NC and was mildly startled to see "reckon" in HP because I had assumed that using it casually (in the sense of "thought" rather than in the sense of doing arithmetic, accounting, or the more significant type of accounting as in "day of reckoning" :P) was more local. *g*
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 31st, 2006 08:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's definitely a word I associate with the south, and I was also surprised to see it in a British book. "Ah reckon" was practically a southern caricature!
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mamadeb From: mamadeb Date: December 31st, 2006 05:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm an American, I've almost never heard it used in casual conversation here, but I knew what it meant from exposure to British books, movies and tv series.
buffyannotater From: buffyannotater Date: December 31st, 2006 08:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Same here.
vytresna From: vytresna Date: December 31st, 2006 05:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've heard it thrown about liberally, but I lay that firmly at the feet of Monty Python and Harry Potter.
From: iamweebles Date: December 31st, 2006 05:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Native Chicagoan and transplanted Bostonian and I hear sacked quite commonly. Though other phrases are more often used, I wouldn't think anything of either hearing it or using it. Although it may have been more common when I was younger (20 years ago) than it is now.
akilika From: akilika Date: December 31st, 2006 05:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
I haven't heard it much in conversation here, but that's mostly because the people I associate with have other words they like better--I've been familiar with it for ages, and I think I've seen it in various media.
rainingtulips From: rainingtulips Date: December 31st, 2006 05:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm an American and have heard "sacked" used in casual conversation. I took an informal poll of my parents, who happened to be in the room when I started reading this. My father was quite familiar with the term, but my mother had never heard it before. We're all midwesterners, but my mother is from rural Iowa and my father is from Chicago, so it's possible that where they grew up have something to do with it.
likeafox From: likeafox Date: December 31st, 2006 06:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
I live in central Ohio and I heard it in casual conversation well before I'd ever heard/seen it in British tv or books. It's not something you toss around all the time, granted, but that's more because you don't talk about people getting fired all the time. Plus it tends to be used in a more casual, joking way, so you wouldn't say it about, say, your relative losing his job or something.
From: almostsophie Date: December 31st, 2006 06:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm Canadian, and I use it in casual conversation. I also say "to get the sack" as in "to get fired". Mind you, I was raised on Monty Python.
anais_ninja From: anais_ninja Date: January 2nd, 2007 05:06 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm an American who grew up mostly in Virginia (though I've lived up and down the east coast), and now that you mention it, I think I've heard "to get the sack" more than "to be sacked". I think maybe it's because it's easier to understand "getting the sack" as "being thrown away/in the garbage/in a garbage bag", you know? The phrase is just a little closer to that meaning.
alchemine From: alchemine Date: December 31st, 2006 06:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm American and have known the word forever thanks to books and movies. I almost never hear it used in conversation, though. On the rare occasions when people do say it, it's with a sort of ironic self-consciousness, i.e., they know they're "being British."
ashtur From: ashtur Date: December 31st, 2006 06:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
Fairly common in reading Military History, written by both Englishmen and US writers... generally in connection to a less than successful General :)
arclevel From: arclevel Date: December 31st, 2006 06:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've heard 'sacked' used, though I hear other expressions more often. What's more surprising is that I seem to hear it in contexts from British speakers where you wouldn't generally use slang, like it's a standard word for "having one's employment involuntarily terminated" (like 'fired') rather than the very casual slang we use it as (like 'canned'). (Oddly, the other British term that I've come across more than once in writings/situations far less casual than I'd have assumed is 'snog'. Sadly, I can't remember any specific examples.)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 31st, 2006 07:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's my experience--it's very slangy, very much on a level with "canned."
tdu000 From: tdu000 Date: December 31st, 2006 08:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm English so of course it's a word I'm familiar with. Some one else was surprised to hear someone use it who wouldn't usually use slang and I would say that's common. It's a pretty universal term and not just used as slang (though I suppose that's what it was originally). You would even hear it used in a BBC news broadcast!
anais_ninja From: anais_ninja Date: January 2nd, 2007 05:11 am (UTC) (Link)
Just out of curiosity, how do British people use/view the word "fired" in the same context? If some one said he/she had been fired, what impression would it generally create?
tdu000 From: tdu000 Date: January 2nd, 2007 05:19 am (UTC) (Link)
Fired would mean just the same as sacked but it would be more of a slangy term. I checked in my dictionary (see a later post) and it described sacked as informal rather than slang, so you would see sacked in news reports in a way you probably wouldn't see fired. You would probably, but not necessarily, say fired in a more angry tone of voice - sacking could be bad luck (due to "downsizing") but getting fired would probably suggest it was personal. Sacking is probably the more common term but firing isn't unusual.
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 31st, 2006 09:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's very common Australian English - "was sacked", "got the sack", etc. But we also use the term "fired" or "his employment was terminated".

And of course, there are all the various management euphemisms, such as "downsized".

alkari From: alkari Date: December 31st, 2006 09:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
That was me commenting about Aussie English, BTW - the login didn't work!
aeterna13 From: aeterna13 Date: December 31st, 2006 09:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I always thought of it as slang, too, not only that, but the kind of slang that people use when they're trying to sound cool, but which is just antiquated enough not to really ring true. Given that, I was really puzzled to see it used in the context of the Harry Potter books from the mouth of none other than Dolores Umbridge.
jetamors From: jetamors Date: December 31st, 2006 09:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm not sure if I've ever actually heard it in casual conversation, but I wouldn't be surprised if I did. I always thought it was a normal word that people around me just didn't happen to use often because we don't often talk flippantly about someone being fired.
gabrielladusult From: gabrielladusult Date: December 31st, 2006 09:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm American, and I'm pretty sure I've heard it used by other Americans. Although it occurred to me while watching Mary Poppins with my kids the other day and the children ask Mary if she's been "sacked" that I may have heard it for the first time there -- and that is obviously British, but I also recall being surprised partially because of the era and partially because I thought it was more American. If that makes any sense.
muggle_prof From: muggle_prof Date: January 1st, 2007 12:11 am (UTC) (Link)
I know the word from countless British films/TV shows/books, but I don't believe I've ever heard it used by any Americans to mean fired. I live in the deep South (Atlanta), and the only time you'll ever hear "sack" used as a verb will be when someone is talking about football and a quarterback (subjects they talk about alot around here).
rabidsamfan From: rabidsamfan Date: January 1st, 2007 12:18 am (UTC) (Link)
I've heard it now and then (born in Denver, raised there and Omaha.) But then again, my mother had a "dressing table" in her room when I was a kid...
alkari From: alkari Date: January 1st, 2007 12:59 am (UTC) (Link)
It's quite an old expression of course, and has a very understandable origin. According to several sites (this one from answers.com: "Get the sack, first recorded in 1825, probably came from French though it existed in Middle Dutch. The reference here is to a workman's sac ("bag") in which he carried his tools and which was given back to him when he was fired." I've actually never understood it to be any more of a slang phrase than the term "fired".

jesspallas From: jesspallas Date: January 1st, 2007 11:29 am (UTC) (Link)
Getting sacked and getting fired actually have the same origin. A travelling tradesman would give the sack containing his tools to his employer for safe keeping when a job began. If a tradesman's job came to an end, he was given back the sack in which he kept his tools and left, hence he was given the sack. But if he actually did something wrong, like stealing or damage, his tools were taken and set fire to in order to hinder him in getting work elsewhere, hence fired.

This insight was brought to you by the sad woman who got a book about the origins of common phrases for Christmas....;p
anais_ninja From: anais_ninja Date: January 2nd, 2007 05:20 am (UTC) (Link)
I actually find that kind of interesting because neither of those ways is how I understand the words. In my brain, I made up completely other histories. Like, getting sacked was like being thrown away (in a bag, see?). And getting fired was like being ejected at high velocity (from a gun or canon or somesuch, see?).

But with the real stories in front of me I wonder how "sacked" came to be the norm in Britain, while "fired" is the most common in America....
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lilacsigil From: lilacsigil Date: January 1st, 2007 02:03 am (UTC) (Link)
Australian here, and "sacked" is common usage, along with "fired". I'd say it's not even really slang - you might see "200 workers sacked" as a headline, or on the news - but, then again, we're a fairly casual culture!
tdu000 From: tdu000 Date: January 1st, 2007 02:26 am (UTC) (Link)
That's the same in Britain too, so it isn't an example of Australia being more casual than Britain. I wouldn't even have thought of it as slang, though it probably was originally. It definitely wouldn't get edited out of a Harry Potter book in the UK. I suppose that it would come so naturally to Hugh Laurie that it slipped in without anyone noticing.
hughroe From: hughroe Date: January 1st, 2007 03:48 am (UTC) (Link)
It was a lot more common back when than it is now here in the States...back in around the 60's.

kat_denton From: kat_denton Date: January 1st, 2007 05:15 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm a middle aged Midwestern US resident. I know the word from Brit books and movies (starting as another poster mentioned above, with "Mary Poppins", and "Monty Python" and etc, etc.

Everybody seems to know the secondary usage that "sacked" means "fired", but it's not the first definition that pops into ones head. My 86 yr old mom, 44 yr old sister, and 20 yr old son all agree that the first one that comes to mind is the definition related to US rules football - where the quarterback is taken to the ground behind his own line for a loss of yardage.
tdu000 From: tdu000 Date: January 1st, 2007 10:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
I looked it up in my (not very) concise dictionary. It gave the term sack meaning bed (as in "to hit the sack") as slang but the use of it meaning to dismiss someone from employment as informal. I think that is a good description of it use in the UK and Australia: it is informal language but not really slang which is why we see its use in news reports but probably not in the official documentation of the actual event in the workplace.
anais_ninja From: anais_ninja Date: January 2nd, 2007 04:54 am (UTC) (Link)
Because you're missing this choice: I'm an American, and I've heard it VERY RARELY in casual conversation here, understood it quite easily, and thought the person may have been affecting British slang.
From: eshesh Date: January 2nd, 2007 11:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm an American. I've always assumed "sacked" was a Britishism that meant the same thing as "fired" for Americans.
44 comments or Leave a comment