In Food and drink, History, Philosophy, Sport, Words

A pile of sacks

Two very peculiar things happened this week. First, Steve Bruce, erstwhile manager of Aston Villa, had a cabbage thrown at him from the crowd at Villa Park. The cabbage was thrown on Tuesday. On Wednesday he was sacked. 

That same day, Theresa May came on stage at the Tory Party Conference to Dancing Queen and – aagh, it still makes me squirm thinking about it – she danced! She didn’t just dance a bit, she did it again and again and each time I couldn’t help mouthing a silent scream, “Don’t. Don’t. DON’T!!!”

Is there anything more cringeworthy than a politician trying to show they’ve got a personality? Honestly. I’d rather hear them solemnly announce that they were dragging us all into World War III than have to watch and listen to their attempts at convincing us they’re human. NO YOU’RE NOT. Have some dignity. You don’t like football. You don’t listen to The Clash. You’re not really into ballroom dancing. You don’t drink beer. You’re not funny on game shows. You’ve gone into politics.You’re a power junkie. Accept your place on the cold, lonely outer fringes of society and see if you can make the trains run on time. Instead, here we are in the midst of arguably the biggest political turmoil since World War II and the only conclusion to come out of conference season is that our leading politicians think they’re funny.

I apologise. That paragraph was far too long for the digital audience. Hopefully you skipped it and spared yourself the rant. Assuming you haven’t clicked off to some story about the bicycle guy, let’s move on to the nub of the matter.

These peculiar incidents prove two things:
1 Theresa May should sack her advisers;
2 She should throw a cabbage at them first.

Because the clear message from the Steve Bruce experience is that if you want someone sacked, you just have to throw a cabbage at them. Expect to see cabbages being thrown willy-nilly at football grounds up and down the country this weekend. (I wonder what it would cost to hire a plane to fly over Old Trafford and drop a few into the home dug-out.)

Getting sacked is very much in vogue right now; there’s even a TV show about it. The term comes from 17th century French, when the Alain Sucres of the time would instruct their minions to dismiss workers by saying, “Donnez lui son sac!” (“Give him his bag!”) The bag in question was his tool bag; it was the equivalent of clearing your desk.

The expression entered the English language in the 1800s as “Give him the sack” and in some cases “Give him the bag”, which could be quite confusing if the person being dismissed was a baggage handler. Until the 1880s, getting “fired” was something that only happened to human cannonballs.

Sacking, as in what raiders liked to do to towns and villages, predates the ‘dismissal from work’ sense buy nearly 300 years but is not the origin of the term. If you told someone you were giving them the sack in the 16th century, they would have assumed you were passing the sherry, for that is what the drink was called in those days, from the French ‘vin sec’ (dry wine).

Sacking as in plundering may be assumed to mean the violent demolition of a place, just as sacking in American football is the violent demolition of a quarterback, but it literally meant putting the contents of the place in a sack – albeit usually in a wild, bloodthirsty frenzy, like a sort of Medieval trolley dash.

This is not, incidentally, related to ‘ransack’, which comes from Old Norse ‘rann’ meaning house and ‘saka’ meaning seek. Literally, search the house.

Which is what the West Midlands Police will be doing this weekend as they hunt the Vicious Veg Volleying Villain of Villa Park. If you will go throwing cabbages you’re bound to end up on the wrong side of the slaw.

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