“Sacked”

“Veep” is a very caustic, very foul-mouthed, and pretty funny HBO series about a U.S. vice president played by the brilliant Julia Louis Dreyfus. It is also written and put together by a group of British blokes. They must have some good minders at the network, because up until the June 3 episode, I hadn’t noticed a single Britishism that had crept in.

A plot point on that show had to do with the veep’s getting rid of a secret service agent on her detail. At one point, a headline on a TV screen said: “Guard Sacked.”

My glee was short-lived, however, because it turned out that sacked–that is, fired from a job–has been a legitimate NOOB for some time, as witness:

“The surprising return would come more than a month after Mr. Woodford was sacked by the board as president and chief executive after questioning a series of outsize transactions at Olympus.”–New York Times, November 22, 2011

“The mysterious death of Neil Heywood in the Chinese city of Chongqing last year is emerging as a key element in the drama surrounding Bo Xilai, who was sacked as Chongqing’s Communist Party chief in April.”–Wall Street Journal online, June 20, 2012

“In Stages 5, 6, and 7, the star editor gets sacked, a pushover is hired as replacement, the moguls strip the publication down to its chassis and wheels, and they look for a new sucker to buy the publication.”–Jack Shafer, Slate.com, November 12, 2010, referring to “the seven stages through which all vanity press moguls pass after buying a faltering magazine or newspaper.”

It makes perfect sense that sacked would gain popularity over here, as it sounds more brutal than fired and thus suits the act it denotes. I don’t expect, however, that the British term for what Americans call laid off will follow suit. Made redundant is too much of a mouthful, and too odd.

17 responses to ““Sacked”

  1. Were you still taking votes, I would say that “sacked” is perfectly okay, and that “made redundant” would be borderline.
    I disagree, however, that “sacked” sounds more brutal than “fired.” To me, it’s just the opposite, more on the order of the euphemistic, “let go”. But whether fired, sacked, let go, laid off, made redundant, or downsized, the result is the same: somebody is out of a job.

    • I think “fired” sounds nastier too. Probably neither are as nasty as “made redundant” though, when you think about it.

    • AFAIK, “Sacked” is short for “given the sack”, which refers to when a workman is ‘let go’ he is given the sack with which he should carry his tools home (traditionally a worker owns his own tools and takes them from one employer to the next). To be “fired” refers to having your tools burnt in the furnace, as punishment for a worse misdemeanour.

  2. An Australian variant is “boned”, but I have only heard of this being used in media circles. An earlier regional variant was “Jeffed”, used particularly in reference to Victorian public servants sacked by former premier Jeff Kennett in the 1990s.

    • Origin for “boned” in this context? Sounds like the equivalent here of “screwed”. I can’t imagine that as a public media term.

  3. I think “sacked” has been an alternative for a very long time, but today we see and hear it more frequently. “Redundancy” is just the BrE euphemism in parallel with our “down-sized.”

  4. Michael Young

    ‘Let go’ is increasingly used in Britain, at least in the literary area.
    ‘Fired’ is the word used by (Lord) Alan Sugar in the – I am told – popular TV production “The Apprentice”, to terminate a contestant’s involvement.
    To me ‘fired’, chimes with being fired from a cannon – as in circus and other such type of events – so that’s pretty dramatic.

    • I’m embarrassed to say that the U.S. can claim invention of the euphemism “let go.” As for “The Apprentice,” how can I have forgotten that the U.S. “presenter,” Donald Trump, made “You’re fired” a catchphrase?

  5. In Britain, laid off is not the same as being made redundant, or indeed being sacked.

    Being sacked means being fired, in other words being told that for some reason you no longer have a job, but implying you have done something wrong. Being made redundant means losing a job because there is no longer a position for you, ie. they are downsizing (there’s an Americanism for you). Being laid off is a temporary measure, where a place of work closes for a while, for example when a factory shuts for a few weeks to avoid overproduction.

    • In the U.S., unfortunately, “laid off” has lost the connotation of temporariness.

      • And in the UK too, by and large (sorry, these colloquialisms do appear very easily – simplest approximation is perhaps “mostly”). But as has been pointed out elsewhere, the term “redundancy” has legal status here in terms of employee rights legislation. So does being sacked, or fired, if you can show that it was not done for legitimate reasons, but AFAIK those words do not have specific legal definitions.

      • “By and large” derives from a nautical expression and was apparently first used more broadly in the U.S., e.g., Mark Twain in “The Innocents Abroad” (1861): Taking it ‘by and large’, as the sailors say, we had a pleasant..run.”

  6. Hmmm. I’ve used “sacked” ever since I watched the credits for “The Holy Grail” for the first time. Some credit for the spread of Britishisms here in the U.S. is, no doubt, due to the popularity of Monty Python skits.

  7. Being made redundant is a process that, although you lose a job, gives you a monetary compensation for the loss, after a formal process due to a restructuring of the business..

  8. The title character says “a coffee,” which sounds bizarre.

  9. “Sacked,” I believe, entered American consciousness with the Bridget Jones books and movies, wherein our heroine is “sacked” or afraid she will be “sacked” for her many screwups. I use it all the time. It just works.

  10. Pingback: The Hyphen’s the Tell | Not One-Off Britishisms

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