The Etymology Of Haversack

We were talking about rucksacks and backpacks, discussing whether the two words are interchangeable. I said I thought I detected a division in the use of the words. I think we use backpack for something smaller, urban, probably zipped. And we use rucksack for something bigger, more for the countryside, with a drawstring.

The talk turned to haversacks, a word that is British English and going out of fashion, a word for a bag carried on the back or over the shoulder, used especially by soldiers and walkers. I guess the shoulder bag is the equivalent today – or did that grow out of the messenger bag – a bag stretched to fit a laptop or large envelopes and packages.

I wondered what the etymology of haversack was and I wondered whether it was to do with havermout, which is the Dutch word for oatmeal.

And so it is:

Haversack: Mid 18th century: from French havresac, from obsolete German Habersack, denoting a bag used by soldiers to carry oats as horse feed, from dialect Haber ‘oats’ + Sack ‘sack, bag’.