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US 1920s. Popularized by Sad Sack, a cartoon character and eponymous comic strip published originally June 1942 in Yank, the Army Weekly, a US Army publication for soldiers, and later syndicated in the US 1940s and 1950s. Presumably from vulgar “sad sack of shit”; Cartoonist Sgt. George Baker said he took from a “longer phrase, of a derogatory nature”. The term originally referred to a well-meaning but inept soldier.[1]


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sad sack (plural sad sacks)

  1. (idiomatic, usually hyphenated when used attributively) An incompetent or inept person.
  2. (idiomatic, usually hyphenated when used attributively) A perennial victim of misfortune.
    • 2013 April 27, "Movie capsules: Arthur Newman," Boston Globe (retrieved 5 April 2015):
      Weary of his drab life with its nowhere job, failed marriage, boring girlfriend, and estranged teenage son, a middle-aged sad sack fakes his death, changes his identity, and hits the road.
    • 2014 March 29, Zach Schonfeld, "Film Review: Jason Schwartzman Is Charmingly Inept in 7 Chinese Brothers," Newsweek (retrieved 5 April 2015):
      We meet him as he's on his way out, taking the news with equal parts tantrum and sad-sack acceptance.


  1. ^ sad” in Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary, 2001–2019.

Further readingEdit

  • sad sack” in Merriam–Webster Online Dictionary.