• sackcloth •
sæk-klawth • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: 1. A coarse cloth or material of camel's hair, flax, hemp, or cotton, fit for sacks but not for clothing; sacking. 2. Garments nonetheless made from this material, worn as a symbol of mourning or penitence.
Notes: This word is heard most often in the phrase "sackcloth and ashes", referring to pretended penitence. It comes from an ancient ritual of wearing sackcloth and putting ashes on one's head as an indication of penitence.
In Play: As mentioned above, this word is most often used in an idiomatic phrase: "Ben Dover, poor man, forgot his first anniversary and so took his wife out to dinner at a fine restaurant all in sackcloth and ashes." However, in many rural communities in the 30s and 40s a significant number of women made their dresses out of sackcloth: "Cattle and poultry feed manufacturers discovered that so many women were making dresses out of sackcloth that they began sacking their feed in cotton sacks with floral designs on them."
Word History: The first word is based on Old English sacc "sack". The word in Greek was sakkos and Latin saccus, whence French sac. The Greeks picked up the word from the Phoenicians, their trade partners who spoke a Semitic language. Although we have no proof of the Phoenician word, it must have been similar to Hebrew saq and Akkadian saqqu. Cloth in Old English was clath "a cloth, sail, cloth wrapping, hence "garment", akin to clad. The same Old Germanic source became Dutch kleed "garment, dress" and German Kleid "garment". The Old Germanic word is of obscure origin.