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Feeling bagged? Only in Canada Add to ...

Where would English be without the bag? The word has been around since the days of Middle English, when it was spelled bagge. It probably came from the Old Norse baggi, but since no Old Norse are around to confirm the point, we'll have to take it on faith.

A Toronto reader wonders about the use of "bagged" to mean exhausted. She wrote to U.S. colleagues that she would leave at 10 p.m. from Toronto to be with them the next morning for a conference, but that she would "be bagged" for a 7 a.m. meeting. "This seemed to confuse U.S. attendees," she reports. "But fellow Torontonians understood that I meant tired (to the point of dysfunction)."

Of all the dictionaries I consulted, only the Canadian Oxford Dictionary defined "bagged" as tired. It said the term was "North American informal," but I haven't found any citations outside Canada. (The Fitzhenry and Whiteside Canadian Thesaurus lists "baffed" as an alternative for tired, along with bushed, fried, knackered and pooped, but doesn't mention bagged.) When Robert Chapman defined bagged as exhausted in his book American Slang, he turned to a Canadian source for his example: Lynn Johnston's comic strip For Better or For Worse, in which one of the characters says, "I'm too bagged to breathe."

A quick scan of the international press netted only Canadian uses. Christine Nesbitt, a speed skater from London, Ont., said last year that under one coach "we'd have a lot of high intensity and then we'd get rest. I'd either be totally bagged and I wouldn't want to get out of bed in the morning or I'd feel great." Referring to a tough game against the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames defenceman Cory Sarich said, "I was really bagged at the end of the first period."

It is anyone's guess how this sense originated. "Bagged" has been slang for drunk since the days when British printers called a pot of beer "a bag" and referred to intoxicated colleagues as having put their heads in a bag. Maybe the drowsiness of drunkenness was later stripped of its alcoholic overlay. But this is guesswork. "Bagged" as exhausted might as easily refer to bags under one's eyes, or to a sleeping bag, or to being killed, like the birds shot by a hunter and stuffed into a bag.

That's the thing about the bag; it's versatile. If you're sure of a deal, it's in the bag. If you're left holding the bag, you're forced to take responsibility. If you betray a secret, you let the cat out of the bag. To sunbathe is to bag some rays. A repertoire is a bag of tricks. A thin person is a bag of bones. A bagman in Canada is a political fundraiser, though in other countries it has the illegal connotation of a collector of bribes or drug money. "It's not my bag," an expression common in the 1960s to indicate a lack of interest, originated in U.S. jazz slang, where the metaphorical bag was a category that might hold likes or dislikes. Insulting terms for women include old bag and baggage, apparently dating from the days when women who wanted to accompany their soldier-husbands on a train were accommodated in the baggage car.

The word has so many senses that it even competes with itself. To bag a job is to get the job, but to bag a job also means to quit the job in favour of something more rewarding. American slang speaks of being bagged from a job, just as we more commonly speak of being sacked from a job, a sack being a bag. This may reflect the way in which some companies fire employees - by handing them a garbage bag and telling them to put their belongings in it before marching them out the front door. There are 101 other avenues to pursue, including bagpipes and bag ladies, but we'd all be bagged before I got there.

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