The Net Bag Mini Sack Pack

Following up on my post A Refreshing Drink of Sweet Water Juice, I thought I’d explore some other common words in the Romanian language which have a number of common variants.

When I first moved to Cluj-Napoca and I’d go to the grocery store, the clerk would ask me if I wanted a punga. This is probably the most universal word in Romanian for “bag”, and always refers to the plastic (not paper) version. Nobody really knows where this word came from.

Yet when I moved to Timisoara, the clerks would ask me if I wanted a plasa. In other circumstances, this can mean a “net” (like you would use to go fishing) or “screen” (i.e. an anti-insect screen), so I originally thought they were making a clever joke. Nope! In this case, plasa comes from a French root (placer) meaning “to invest money”, or more literally, “to put money (in a bag)”, similar to the English word “purse” (Ro: geanta), which originally meant a special bag with a drawstring into which you would put your money (see the archaic term for thief: cutpurse).

Over here in the Republic of Moldova, the most common word that people use is sacosa (sock-o-sha), a diminutive form of the word “sac”, identical to the English word “sack”, all of which come via Greek σάκος (sakos), inherited from a really ancient Semitic term for a large bag that became “popularized” when the Old Testament was translated into Greek (and then Latin).

Note: in Romania, a different diminutive, saculet (sock-oo-lets) is used occasionally.

Another common term in the Republic of Moldova is pachet (pock-et). In Romania, la pachet is how you make a to-go/carryout order because the food is then wrapped in the “pachet”. This term pachet is used for a “bag” in RM because it comes directly from how Russians around here refer to it.

Romanians and Russians both got the term from French, which in turn borrowed it from German, which got it from a Dutch word “pak”, which meant “bundle” (something wrapped up in something else). Americans still say “pack” for some things (and the verb to pack) while British people use the variant “packet” for the same items. Likewise package/packaging, which in Romanian is ambalaj.

Fun note: the term packet boat was used to describe Dutch (and later German) boats that delivered the mail, i.e. items that were wrapped up.

While most English-speakers use the generic term “bag” to describe this item, there are some regional variants:

British people often refer to plastic/paper bags from the supermarket as carrier bags, while Americans generally say shopping bags. Occasionally though, in the deep south of the United States, you’ll hear the term poke. Although “poke” is rarely used anymore, the diminutive is pocket, the “little bag” sewn into your clothes.


3 thoughts on “The Net Bag Mini Sack Pack

  1. I really like your posts about the Romanian language, Sam, but after reading almost all of them, I realized that there is something that you overlook. Don’t get me wrong, it is completely understandable, Romanians themselves often overlooking them because of certain reasons, mostly involving their lack of travelling to other regions of the country. The mistake you normally make is to assume that the whole Romania uses the same words the people from Transylvania use, or to assume that people from Transylvania use in their every day life the official dialect/accent, which is barely used even in the region from were it originated. As you already know, the Romanian taught in school is the Wallachian dialect/ accent, yet, as you very well pointed out in one of your older posts, it is not usually used outside of work or educational institutions. Since you already know that, I find it a little strange that most of the time, when you look for the etymology of certain words and when you make comparisons between the words used in Romania and those used in Moldova, you always compare a word from Moldovan with one or more that are in use in Transylvania, or that is/are part of the Romanian taught in schools, but very rarely with the ones used in Wallachia, Dobrogea or Oltenia in the everyday life. My point is that I’ve lived in Bucharest for most of my life and because the city gathered people from all over Romania, we ended up using words from other regions as well. In most of the supermarkets, hypermarkets and malls you will indeed see/hear the word “punga” for “bag”, but when the customers actually ask for it or talk about it, most of the time they ask for “sacosa”, not “punga”. That is to say, that you are not wrong in the least, and your post is very true, it’s just that “sacosa”, despite being introduced most probably through the Moldovan dialect/accent is not unheard of, or unused in other parts of Romania.


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