It’s no secret that I am a power user of the Starbucks® coffee chain. The staff at my local dispensary not only know me by name but start preparing my drink before I get to the counter. I also have one of the Starbucks’ gold cards that automatically reloads direct from my bank account if my credit goes below $15.00. Add to that my collection of Starbucks mugs from around the world and you get some idea of my significant contribution to the company’s annual profits.
To sustain my habit during the day, I bought a VIA® tumbler, a marvelous piece of drinking technology that ensures I have a constant supply of ready-brew coffee; or as it used to be called, “instant coffee.” The Starbucks marketing department have gone to great pains to advertise their VIA range as “Ready Brew” because it’s “a different instant coffee.”
Where marketing and design converge is the VIA tumbler, which allows you to load up to six of the VIA packets into a case that wraps around the tumbler, almost loading a six-gun barrel.
So when they announced the launch of their new flavored VIA packs, I looked forward to adding them to my tumbler, giving me a wider choice. But alas there was one tiny flaw: the packets are too large for the slots. This is either an oversight by the marketing department or a prelude to the launch of a new tumbler designed for the larger packs.
Needless to say, like any good Englishman, I wrote a stern letter. If I’d still been living in the UK, I’d have mailed it to the Times and the Telegraph. However, as I’m in Ohio, e-mail had to do.
A week later, my new friend, Leo, sent me a reply.
I’m very happy to hear how much you enjoy your tumbler. There is nothing in my database that indicates the VIA Natural Fusions will be packaged in a smaller sachet. What I will do is pass your idea onto the VIA department here at our corporate headquarters.
Clearly Leo actually read my missive as I did indeed state that I liked my cup. Sadly his second sentence drifted from the “I” of the first and shifted the focus to a neutral third party – the database. Whatever the database tells him must be the truth. I would have preferred a more human “we have no plans to make smaller sachets” rather than the retreat to the passive. Ah well, at least he switched back to the “I” in the final sentence and has now passed the buck.
The OED defines the current use of the word as:
A small sealed bag-like container, now usually of plastic, for holding a liquid, a powder, or air.
It first appeared in the 1917 Harrod’s General Catlogue when mentioning “Shampoo Sachets.” However, the earlier definition of a sachet was;
A dry perfume made up into a packet for placing among articles of clothing, etc.
Piesse’s Perfumery (1855) contains the sentence, “Besides the sachets mentioned there are many other substances applied as dry perfumes, such as scented wadding.”
Ultimately it can be tracked back to the 15th century when it was used to mean a small bag or wallet. William Caxton uses the word in his 1483 The Golden Legend:
He… ete.. twyes a day of the same loof and alwaye on the morn he fond it hool in his sachet.
But the story doesn’t end – or start – there. The word is clearly French in origin, which in turn derives from the Old Northern French saquet, a small sack or bag. At the same time as sachet was being used by Caxton, the word sacket was also in use, as evidenced in a snippet from An Alphabet of Tales, a 1440 translation of the Alphabetum Narrationum of Etienne de Besancon:
A grete sakett full of mony in his hand.
This remained as a dialectal word in Scotland to at least the early 19th century, and through to the late 19th as meaning a rascal.
The word saquet is itself a diminutive of the older Latin word, saccus, meaning a bag made of sackcloth. Digging even further bag we find the Greek word σάκκος, also meaning a bag made of cloth.
Earlier than this, the word saq occurs in Hebrew and possibly Phoenician (according to both the OED and Liddell & Scott in their An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon). There are also the variants such as the Jewish Aramaic saq, saqq, the Syriac saq, saqå, and the Assyrian saqqu.
I can only hope that Starbucks’ will take less time to re-size their new flavored VIA sachets than the word itself evolved from its Assyrian origins. I can only hope.