John Montagu (1718-1792), the 4th Earl of Sandwich, who ordered his dinner meat served between two slices of bread so he could keep playing cribbage without getting the cards greasy, didn’t really invent the sandwich. People had been eating meat between pieces of bread for millennia—but his waggish friends thought it funny to call food served in that manner a “sandwich.”
One popular variety of the Earl’s delight is known today by many names in different regions: po-boy, submarine, hero, hoagie, grinder, blimpie, torpedo, rocket, zeppelin or zep, bomber and bap. The origin of some of these names is obvious when one looks at the sandwich, which consists of an oblong roll of French or Italian bread, sliced lengthwise, and filled with some combination of meats, cheeses, fish, lettuce, tomato, pickles, peppers, onions, and condiments. The shape of such a concoction is clearly reminiscent of such devices as a submarine, a torpedo, a rocket, a blimp, a zeppelin, or a bomber.
But what about po-boy, hoagie, hero, grinder, and bap? The stories are as varied as the ingredients of the sandwiches.
The most likely origin of the po-boy (a dialectical version of “poor boy”) was in the New Orleans restaurant of Benny and Clovis Martin, both former streetcar conductors. During a streetcar strike in 1929, the Martins helped their erstwhile colleagues by serving them free sandwiches, filled with odd scraps of beef. The restaurant staff jokingly referred to the strikers as "poor boys", and soon the sandwiches themselves took on that name.
The hoagie has many possible origins, all in Philadelphia. It may have started in World War I, when Italian-American workers in a shipyard known as “Hog Island,” introduced an Italian-style sandwich that became known as a “Hog Island” sandwich, then a “hoggie,” and finally a “hoagie.” An alternate explanation is that it’s a word derived from “Hogan,” a nickname for Irish workers in the shipyard, referring to the “hog meat” or pork in their sandwiches. Another theory holds that the sandwiches were first sold in Philadelphia in 1879 by street vendors known as “hokey-pokey men”; hence, a “hokey” sandwich. Yet another possible origin is the phrase “on the hoke,” which referred to a destitute person in Philadelphia’s Italian community. Deli owners would give away meat scraps in bread to the poor and called these sandwiches “hokies.” Finally, some linguists think that it was originally a “hooky” sandwich, originating with truant youngsters who ate them while skipping school. No one really knows the truth.
A hero is a New York term, first seen in 1937. Some people say it was invented by Clementine Paddleford, a food writer for the New York Herald-Tribune to refer to a sandwich of great, or “heroic,” size. Others point to a corruption the Greek sandwich known as a gyro, even though the sandwich is identified with Italians..
Grinder is a New England term, and yet again we owe it to Italian immigrants, who used the word to refer to dock workers, who were partial to the sandwich. Or maybe the term originated from the difficulty in chewing the crusty bread. (In Boston the grinder is sometimes calle a spukie or spucky, from a kind of Italian bread known as spucadella.)
Finally, bap is a Scottish term for a soft, floury roll, about 5 inches in diameter, usually more round like a hamburger bun than oblong, which may or may not be stuffed with various fillings. The origin of the word, which dates from the 16th century, is unknown—but may have sprung from pap, a Scottish word for the mammary gland, which the roll resembles in shape and size. In fact, in today’s British slang baps can mean “breasts.” A bap is used to make what the Brits call a “chip butty,” which is a buttered roll filled with fried potatoes and malt vinegar.
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is filled with vinegar and heaven knows what else. Whatever it is, some of it has oozed out in the following verses:
One day Bacall said, "Listen, Bogie,
I'm feeling pretty tired and logy,
It makes me act like some old fogey—
You know, I think I'll eat a hoagie,
Ideally, one stuffed with pierogi."
She ate, and then she smoked a stogie,
Then roped and saddled up a dogie,
And rode him off to see a yogi.
Way out west, in far Toledo,
There a lived a bold and bad bandido,
Who said in life his only credo,
Was just to sharpen his libido
By putting on a sexy Speedo
And strolling up and down the Lido
While lunching on a huge torpedo.
The mighty Roman emperor Nero
Thought that he might try a hero,
But instead he opted for a gyro,
Because its price was almost zero.
Those TV friends, both Ren and Stimpy,
One day were feeling rather gimpy,
They moped around and looked quite wimpy.
At last they thought they’d have a blimpie,
But, sad to say, they found it skimpy.
It's said that there's no girl and no boy,
No roly-poly Pillsbury Doughboy,
Who would refuse a luscious po-boy
When served upon an antique lowboy.
Now this is just a quick reminder
That you can put into a binder:
You really ought to wear a blinder
When you consume a greasy grinder--
For that will make you feel much kinder.
I say, old chap,
I took a nap,
Put on my cap,
And bought an app
To make a map
To find a bap
Right in my lap.
And that’s a wrap!