Yesterday i went out for brunch with a couple a friends. It was all nice and stuff but as soon as the tattooed waitress got us the menu, we noticed that there was an “open-sandwich” option. So, we ended up doing what any grown up adult would do: arguing whether a “open-sandwich” should be called a sandwich or not.
In my opinion, it shouldn’t since the definition of a sandwich clearly states that the food should be placed between the two slices of bread, but that’s not the point here. As we were having our discussion, i remembered reading somewhere a long time ago that sandwich was called sandwich because an English nobleman called Sandwich was so much addicted to gambling, that he was ordering his food to be placed between bread so as to not leave the gaming table. In fact, this is the most prevalent theory and the one suggested by Oxford English Dictionary.
But being an author for I’m A Useless Info Junkie and fact-checking myths for quite a while now, made me think if this was indeed the case. Was sandwich called that way because of Earl of Sandwich? Let’s find out. (the article continues after the ad)
Well, even though there have been sandwiches long before the 4th Earl of Sandwich , surprisingly enough this story is partially true. Sandwich was indeed named after John Montagu (1718-1792) who was the 4th Earl of Sandwich (Sandwich is a town in Kent, England) but the gambling part of the story is quite questionable.
Yes, Sandwich was ordering his food in this form as he was very busy and didn’t want to interrupt what he was doing just to go for lunch, but the gossip of the gaming table seems to have originated just from one source – a passage from Grosley’s Tour to London:
“A minister of state passed four and twenty hours at a public gaming-table, so absorpt in play that, during the whole time, he had no subsistence but a bit of beef, between two slices of toasted bread, which he eat without ever quitting the game. This new dish grew highly in vogue, during my residence in London: it was called by the name of the minister who invented it.”
Other than that though, there is no supporting evidence for this myth. So, what were sandwiches called before the 4th Earl of Sandwich since they have been around since the 1st century B.C.?
According to Mark Morton’s very, very well researched article Bread and Meat for God’s Sake, they were simply called “bread and meat” or “bread and cheese”:
“What, then, were sandwiches called before they were sandwiches? After combing through hundreds of texts, mostly plays, that were written long before the Earl of Sandwich was even born, a possible (through somewhat prosaic) answer emerges. The sandwich appears to have been simply known as “bread and meat” or “bread and cheese.” These two phrases are found throughout English drama from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. For example, in an anonymous late sixteenth-centry play called Love and Fortune, a young man pleads for “a peece of bread and meat for Gods sake. Around the same time, in The Old Wives Tale by George Peele, a character confesses, “I tooke a peece of bread and cheese, and came my way.” Shakespeare uses the phrase, too, in The Merry Wives of Windsor, where Nim announces, “I love not the humour of bread and cheese.” A slightly later anonymous play, known as The Knave in Grain, includes a pedlar called a “bread and meat man” in its dramatic personate, and Thomas Heywood’s seventeenth-century version of The Rape of Lucrece includes a song made up of the cries of street pedlars, including, “Bread and – meat – bread – and meat.” Dozens of other plays from the same era also make reference to “bread and meat” or “bread and cheese.”
So, now you know!