Eating Your Words

The fascinating origins of everyday culinary words and phrases

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Food glorious food!

Everything but the kitchen sink

Keep the pot boiling

Out of the frying pan

Salad days  

In the soup!

Cook one’s goose  

Give us a butchers!   

What a sauce!

A sandwich short of a picnic

Feeling groggy           

Just my cup of tea

Look to your laurels   

The spice of life      

In a nutshell   


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The meaning and origin of words and phrases related to sandwiches

A number of foods and drinks have been named after places or people, sometimes after the person who invented it, sometimes in honour of someone.

A sandwich consists of two (or more) slices of bread with a sweet or savoury filling. The word is first recorded with this use in 1762. Sandwiches are said to have been named after the British politician John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792), who, so the story goes, sustained himself during long hours spent at gaming tables on nothing but snacks consisting of slices of cold meat between two slices of bread. He was not, of course, the first person to eat two slices of bread with a filling in between, but his patronage gave it a vogue and, it would appear, its name. This origin is first recorded in 1770. Sandwiches were not the only things to have been named after John Montagu as the islands of Hawaii were originally called the Sandwich Islands by Captain James Cook in a somewhat sycophantic gesture as John Montagu was the first lord of the British Admiralty at the time Cook landed there. Ultimately the word sandwich means ‘a trading settlement on sand’ as this is the meaning of Sandwich, the town in Kent of which John Montagu became the 4th Earl. Its name was a combination of the Old English words sand and wic. It is thought that that other staple of a tea party the bridge roll shares a gaming origin with the sandwich. First recorded in 1926, they were probablymade for consumption at afternoon bridge parties.  

A club sandwich is a sandwich made with three slices of bread and two layers of filling. The bread is most often toasted. Also known as a double-decker or decker sandwich, they are often cut into quarters and held together using a cocktail stick. There is a variety of explanations for its name but perhaps the most popular is that they gained popularity in country clubs.


A sandwich short of a picnic is said about someone to mean that they are stupid or crazy. A number of other phrases use the concept of not being complete: e.g. not all there, not the full shilling, a bit missing, one grape short of a bunch, not playing with a full deck. The phrase, which is also often used as two sandwiches short of a picnic, is very recent and probably dates from the mid 1980s.

The meat in the sandwich is a phrase used to describe someone who is caught between opposing factions.

Sandwich boards are portable advertisements worn by sandwich (board) men. The arrangement allows the wearers to move the advert around a town. They are so-called because the bearer is sandwiched between the two boards. The term and concept of sandwich men dates from the second half of the 19th century.

A sandwich biscuit consists of two biscuits of the same kind that are held together by a layer of jam, cream etc to form a single item. In America they are known as sandwich cookies. Both terms date from just after the turn of the 20th century.

The sandwich generation is an American term for a middle-aged generation who find themselves sandwiched between care responsibilities for their children who are staying in education later and the additional responsibility of providing care for their aging parents who are living longer than in the past. The term is first recorded in 1975.

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Don't mince your words