Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Hoagies or subs?

–noun, plural -gies. New Jersey and Pennsylvania (chiefly Philadelphia ).
a hero sandwich.
Also, hoagie.

[Origin: 1965–70, Americanism; a number of anecdotal hypotheses have been advanced as to the orig. of the word, most claiming it to be derivative of hog, either in reference to pork as an ingredient, or as an epithet for a person capable of eating such a sandwich, or alluding to Hog Island, an industrial and shipping area of South Philadelphia; but corroborating evidence is lacking; see
-ie ]

Cheesy here. Its been a busy week and will only get busier: I’m moving out of University City—escaping the returning UPenn students—and into the Graduate Hospital area of Center City. There has not been much in the way of culinary adventures or experiments in the kitchen. I’ve finally lost most of my patience with my present kitchen—small, dirty, badly stocked. That’s what I get for a sublet!

So I decided: instead of an account of a fine dish in a restaurant or one of my own failures or successes, I’d ruminate on something that’s been bothering me ever since I came from Virginia to the Philadelphia area: the word hoagie.

In my youth, I always knew this fine specimen of a sandwich to be a ‘sub’, short for submarine. So I looked submarine up, along with hoagie, at

The long sandwich featuring layers of meat and cheese on a crusty Italian roll or French bread goes by a variety of names. These names are not distributed in a pattern similar to that of other regional words because their use depends on the business and marketing enterprise of the people who create the sandwiches and sell them. Submarine and sub are widespread terms, not assignable to any particular region. Many of the localized terms are clustered in the northeast United States, where the greatest numbers of Italian Americans live. In Maine, it is called an Italian sandwich, befitting its heritage. Elsewhere in New England and in Sacramento, California, it is often called a grinder. New York City knows it as a hero. In the Delaware Valley, including Philadelphia and southern New Jersey, the sandwich is called a hoagie. Speakers in Miami use the name Cuban sandwich. Along the Gulf Coast the same sandwich is often called a poor boy. In New Orleans, a poor boy is likely to be offered in a version featuring fried oysters.

When I was still in college—this was about 3 years ago during my sophomore year when I was courting my first girlfriend—I would say, “Gosh, I’d like to eat an Italian sub right now.” I’d get a look. I would repeat myself, in case I was somehow misunderstood. Then I would get the inevitable response: “You mean, an Italian hoagie, right?”

This happened a few times, and every time I wondered, where did this strange word ‘hoagie’ come from? Why is Philadelphia so strange? So, today at work, I went looking for some answers. One is supplied above. Here’s another:

Amer.Eng. (originally Philadelphia) "hero, large sandwich made from a long, split roll," originally hoggie (c.1936), traditionally said to be named for Big Band songwriter Hoagland Howard "Hoagy" Carmichael (1899-1981), but the use of the word pre-dates his celebrity and the original spelling seems to suggest another source. Modern spelling is c.1945, and may have been altered by influence of Carmichael's nickname.

Wikipedia reports:
According to one reference[3], many older, Italian-descended, South Philadelphia residents, said that the real origin of the word "hoagie" arose in the late 19th-early 20th century, when there was a term "on the hoke" that was used to denote someone who was down-and-out. The word "hoke" may have been derived from a Scottish term, "howk," meaning "rummaging around." Men who were "on the hoke" would ask deli owners for handouts, who would put together scraps and off-cuts of their cheeses and meats and offer them in an Italian roll. The sandwich was known as a "hokie." The Italian immigrants, who spoke a slurred type of English, pronounced it as "hoagie."
Apparently, according to Mayor Ed Rendell, the hoagie if the official sandwich of Philadelphia (what? What happened to the famous Philly cheesesteak?). And May 5th is National Hoagie Day. Now that’s something to celebrate!

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