Word Stories: Sandwich

This is the transcript for the English with Stephen podcast episode looking at the origin of the word Sandwich.

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Hello this is Stephen Greene and I’d like to welcome you to English with Stephen.

I hope you are not hungry because today we are talking about food. In particular, we are talking about the sandwich.

At the end of this podcast I will give the recipe for my favourite sandwich, the one I make to cheer myself up. I think it is delicious, so make sure you wait until the end.

Before that, though, we are going to look at the origins of the word. Why is a sandwich called a sandwich?

Stay tuned to find out more.

Before we get into the sandwich, I’d like to remind you that you can get the transcript to this episode on my site EnglishwithStephen.com. The transcript is a really useful resource to help you understand, improve your listening skills and learn new vocabulary. So go to EnglishwithStephen.com to get the transcript, find my social media accounts and get the link to my new youtube channel.

So, sandwiches.

Did you know that 56% of British people eat a sandwich at least once a day? That’s right, 56%!

Also, the average Brit will eat 18, 304 sandwiches in their life. And that each British person will spend on average over £48, 000 in their lifetime on sandwiches.

Who said British food was boring?

A sandwich is a very simple type of food. Basically, it is just two slices of bread with something inside, like some meat or cheese. You can have a very complicated sandwich with lots of ingredients, or just the bread a cheese. You could put a piece of cooked meat inside two slices of bread and call it a burger, but it’s still a sandwich.

So where does this name come from?

The story goes that there was a very rich and influential member of the aristocracy in the late 1700s called the Earl of Sandwich. He worked for the admiralty, but his passion was playing cards. In fact, he loved playing cards so much that he often forgot to eat. He sometimes ordered food so that he could eat and play at the same time, but this ended up with dirty fingers and dirty cards. His solution was to order his meat placed between two slices of bread so the grease and juices from the meat would not go on the cards. And so this delicacy was named after him: sandwich.

An Earl is a high-ranking member of the aristocracy. In some other European countries, they use the title ‘count’. And this man was the Earl of Sandwich, hence the name. The original meaning of sandwich is also interesting. Sandwich is a very old town in the south east of England, near the port of Dover. We can break the word down into two parts; ‘sand’ and ‘wich’.

‘Wich’ is an old English word going back to the Anglo-Saxons in the 6th century and it meant a small fortified town where trade took place. Other places in England that have this suffix include Ipswich, Jorvich (modern day York) and Londonwic, just outside London.

In old English ‘sand’ meant, well, ‘sand’. So the original meaning of ‘Sandwich’ was ‘a sandy market town’.

The town of Sandwich was very important historically. It was the site of many invasions by Vikings and other raiders, as well as lots of battles between different kings and tribes trying to assert their domination of the area.

The word sandwich has been almost as popular as the food itself. In Portuguese, the word is sanduiche and there are similar words in languages as diverse as French, Korean, Arabic and Swahili.

In Modern English, we can use ‘sandwich’ not just to talk about the food, but also as a metaphor for when something is squeezed between two other things. For example, when I was at university I lived in a house sandwiched between a pub and an Indian restaurant. Good times!

Anyway, I’m going to leave you with a recipe for my favourite sandwich. Take some good quality fresh bread and cut two slices. Put plenty of mature cheddar cheese between the two slices. Add tomatoes and onions. Depending on your mood, add some chutney or mayonnaise or Branston pickle and then lots of freshly ground black pepper. And that is it! Delicious!


Don’t forget to check out the website EnglishwithStephen.com for a transcript of this episode. You can also find interesting links, including one to a video of a man who spent 6 months, and $1500, making his own chicken sandwich from scratch.

You’ll also find links to my Facebook and Twitter channels on the website link. If you are already following me, I’d love to hear about your favourite sandwich, so leave a comment when you get the chance.

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