Merriam Webster Word of the Day: Sandbag

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The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is sandbag. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

When used figuratively, sandbag usually means “to hit or stun as if with a sandbag,” “to criticize or treat unfairly” or “to hide one’s true abilities or purpose in order to deceive people, gain an advantage, etc.”

// She felt sandbagged by some of the feedback in the writing workshop, but resolved to take what was useful and ignore the rest.

// He claimed he was playing badly because of an injury, but I think he was sandbagging us.

SANDBAG in Context

“While tentpoles resuscitated moviegoing this past summer with pics like ‘Top Gun: Maverick,’ it’s true that the more adult-skewing fare is having a much harder time now. Nowhere was this more true than with David O. Russell’s ‘Amsterdam,’ which rivals believed had a shot at opening to $12M-$15M this past weekend. … What should have been an awards-season play with its originality quickly was sandbagged by critics at 34% on Rotten Tomatoes.” — Anthony D’Alessandro, Deadline, 10 Oct. 2022

Did You Know?

How much nuance is there in a bag of sand? Here’s the nitty-gritty: when sandbag was first established as a verb in the 1800s, it meant (quite understandably) “to bank, stop up, or weight with sandbags,” but since then it has taken on several figurative meanings, some more obvious than others. First came the simple (and decidedly unfriendly in application) metaphorical extension: “to hit or stun as if with a sandbag.” Less literal uses followed, including “to treat unfairly or harshly” and “to coerce by crude means.” By the mid-20th century, sandbag was being used by poker players to describe the act of pretending a strong hand is actually weak, in order to draw other players into raising the bet. This use of sandbag has since evolved to refer to a general strategy of misrepresenting one’s intentions or abilities in order to gain some sort of advantage.

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