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Origin of the phrase "SandBag"

Posted by Sauerkraut on September 30, 2000

In Reply to: Origin of the phrase "SandBag" posted by Bruce Kahl on September 28, 2000

: : I am trying to determine the origin of the phrase sandbag. As in a person who conceals abilities or assets at first in order to gain a tactical advantage later.

: Sandbag=to conceal or misrepresent one's true position, potential, or intent especially in order to take advantage.

: Fill a sock or bag with sand and you have a very handy, powerful weapon.
: Your phrase, according to Mr. Morris of the Word Detective, originated from the game of poker whereby a player would hold off raising the stakes in order to lull the other players into a false sense of security. The poker sandbagger would pounce late in the game, clobbering the other players with his "sandbag" or good hand.

I have also encountered the term used in the context of "ambush" - sort of the idea in the poker explanation. I was formerely active in theater, and there is an interesting explanation of the term that is common among actors.

On true working stages, where backdrops are "flown" - attached to ropes so they can be lifted up and down as required, the unused ropes being weighted with sandbags for easy retrieval.

It is a common exercize of actors to practice their "blocking" - position and movement that they do while delivering their lines. Thus, an actor might be expected to be on the stage before or in-between shows. Eager understudies were said to wait on the catwalks above the stage to try to drop a sandbag on the lead actor so they could have a chance to perform. Another explanation was that an actor who had a grudge against a fellow actor would drop a sandbag as a warning.

Whether the true meaning of the term or not - the story is rather charming.