I heard somewhere there was a word that in english translated to 3 words: pocket (small bag), pouch (regular-sized bag), and poke (large bag). I also heard that poke is now obsolete. This seems to be true, so why is it obsolete/why don't people use it?


I think I heard that it was obsolete in America or something like that.

  • 3
    We held an election and bag won, so poke went off to live in the boonies. There's really no more to it than that. Jul 18, 2014 at 2:25
  • 4
    As long as the expression 'Pig in a poke' exists, I can't see how poke is obsolete.
    – long
    Jul 18, 2014 at 6:00
  • @long Seeing that the origin of that expression came from butchers putting cats in bags instead of pigs, I can't see how customers didn't assassinate the butchers/check the bag before they left.
    – Cilan
    Jul 18, 2014 at 16:44
  • To the extent that it's obsolete, it's because people don't use it anymore. (And the origin of the idiom is not from butchers' practices, but the practices of shady people in dark alleys selling animals that may or may not be theirs to sell.)
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 16, 2016 at 12:06
  • 1
    "poke" [poki] means spiced or sauced raw fish chunks with seaweed. It's a standard grocery item here in Hawaii.
    – Greg Lee
    Jun 4, 2018 at 21:31

9 Answers 9


Meanings of words change over the years. Words fall out of use, or are reapplied, or new words are invented. The "why" is usually just because the people using the language are spending their time speaking about different things than they used to, and the language adapts to suit their needs.

A pocket is no longer a small bag; it's usually used to mean a bag built into a piece of clothing to conveniently carry small objects. It can also sometimes refer to other pocketlike structures.

A pouch now usually connotes a particular kind of bag, typically with a narrowed or drawstring neck, not necessarily of any particular size. It can also refer to other pouchlike structures.

A poke ... well, these days almost nobody uses that kind of large bag often enough to need a short name for it. It's simply called "a large bag", or described by its purpose or shape or specific size. As Erik mentioned, the only current use of the word that most of us have heard is "buying a pig in a poke" -- and many people who use that phrase have no idea of its origin.


It appears that the use of 'poke' meaning a 'bag' has always been mainly regional both in US an UK. Ngran shows that both the expression a pig in the poke and in a poke have actually never gained much currency though still in use.


n. Chiefly Southern U.S.:

Regional Note:

The noun poke meaning a bag or sack dates from the 14th century in English. In many parts of Scotland poke means a little paper bag for carrying purchases or a cone-shaped piece of paper for an ice-cream cone. The Oxford English Dictionary gives similar forms in other languages: Icelandic poki, Gaelic poc or poca, and French poche.


Poke in the sense of 'bag' still clings on today in the admonition expressed by the proverb "Don't buy a pig in a poke".

According to etymologist Michael Quinion, who discusses the proverb here, it also remains current in Scotland.

  • 1
    I dispute that it clings on (except in dialect). The word does, in that expression, but I don't believe that most people know the meaning of the word, any more than they know what a petard is in hoist by his own petard.
    – Colin Fine
    Jul 18, 2014 at 11:02
  • 2
    @ColinFine Um, not dead yet. You'd have a hard time finding someone in Western NC that didn't know what a poke sack was. Only $3.00
    – Phil Sweet
    Jun 1, 2016 at 4:05
  • Well in Ireland in 2018, most people are very familiar with "Don't buy a pig in a poke" and I think many do know what's a poke @ColinFine
    – k1eran
    Jun 4, 2018 at 22:09
  • 1
    You may be right, @k1eran, and you may be wrong. It's hard to quantify such claims. I know that, as a child in England, I knew the phrase in the proverb but didn't know the meaning of poke.
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 5, 2018 at 19:12

I grew up in mid-size Piedmont town in NC. I am 65. Poke was very commonly by my parents and grandparents generation. My grandparents were from Appalachia and I don't know if I ever heard them call a paper bag or a large cloth bag anything other than a poke. Everyone of my generation would have known exactly what it was, but would have considered it a "countrified" word for bag even when I was a child. I actually used it myself the other day and my husband said he did not know what it meant and teased me about using it. However he said he had heard the words "poke sack". To my ear, that sounds redundant, since both mean bag to me--like saying "a bag bag." Poke was also a word used for a type of green as in "poke salad" but everyone knew those two pokes had entirely different meanings.

  • Why is the word poke not being used these days? That would give an answer to the OP. Sep 16, 2016 at 12:23

I grew up in Northumberland calling a paper cone-shaped bag (for sweets, mostly) a poke. My wife, from Lancashire, e claims never to have heard the word in that context. That raises another question. Strawberry sauce on an ice-cream cone (or poke, pace NI), is it monkey's blood (Northumberland) or "dragon's blood" (Lancashire)?


I grew up in Chicago in a neighborhood where almost everyone's parents or grandparents were from Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. We commonly referred to taking our bag lunch to school as a lunch in a poke. And the word "poke" was very common when referring to a bag. The Appalachian dialect is very conservative and tends to be passed on for a few generations. And the words are often passed on to non-Appalachian speakers. My kids know that a poke is bag. So I wouldn't say it's obsolete.


When I was growing up in rural North Carolina I had neighbors that referred to a small brown paper bag as a "poke". For example, when we would take our lunch to school in a brown paper bag, many of my classmates referred to it as a "poke". I guess because you could poke (a verb) something into the bag.

  • 1
    So you're saying that until fairly recently, "poke" was used in certain parts of NC? Could you say how long ago, please? Thanks.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 1, 2016 at 4:08

In northern Ireland the Ice cream man is called a Pokey man and you get poke from him -It could refer back to the fact that there was a circular bar of Ice cream, with a 'paper card' wrapped around the Ice cream to protect it, and you had to 'poke it out' to get it into the cone-- this was before the scoop made an appearance and well before the soft Ice cream of the Mr whippy type.


A poke that I know about is a leather bag used to hold gold by the miners during the California Gold Rush of ‘49.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.