What does "to the sack" mean in this context:

To the sack, to the sack!” rose the cry on all sides.

At that moment, the tapestry of the dressing-room, which we have described above, was raised, and afforded passage to a personage, the mere sight of whom suddenly stopped the crowd, and changed its wrath into curiosity as by enchantment.

Hugo, Victor. The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (AmazonClassics Edition) (p. 27). AmazonClassics. Kindle Edition.

1 Answer 1


Sack here is used in the sense of pillage and destruction. The restive crowd is calling for the destruction of the bailiff and sergeants of the Palace of Justice. The corresponding phrase in English is to put to the sack. In the "sense evolution" section of the Wiktionary entry on sack, the origin of this meaning of "sack" is described as follows:

“Pillage” senses from the use of sacks in carrying off plunder. From Middle French sac, shortened from the phrase mettre à sac (“put it in a bag”), a military command to pillage; also parallel meaning with Italian sacco (“plunder”), from Medieval Latin saccō (“pillage”). From Vulgar Latin saccare (“to plunder”), from saccus (“sack”). See also ransack. American football “tackle” sense from this “plunder, conquer” root.

The 1888 translation you quote, by Isabel Florence Hapgood, is available at Project Gutenberg. It provides the exact equivalent of the French original:

— A sac! à sac ! criait-on de toutes parts.

En cet instant, la tapisserie du vestiaire que nous avons décrit plus haut, se souleva, et donna passage à un personnage dont la seule vue arrêta subitement la foule, et changea comme par enchantement sa colère en curiosité. (p. 28)

However, others have chosen less literal equivalents. Here are a couple of examples, both from anonymous translators:

“At them! At them!” came from all sides. (Harvard Classics edition, 1917)

"Down, down with them!" was the cry, which resounded from all sides. (Chapman and Hall edition, 1877).

These less exact translations render the sense rather more clearly.

  • Thanks! I thought that was it. due to the context, but wanted to make sure. That clears it all up.
    – ICD
    Apr 14, 2023 at 0:14

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