Sandwich. What does that word make you think of? You might picture a ham sandwich, possibly an egg sandwich or some of the more astute readers may even picture a hamburger. Let’s not even get into whether a hamburger is a sandwich (it is).

No matter what you thought of it was most likely some kind of food you consume between two pieces of bread. After all, that’s what a sandwich is. Hold on, did anyone picture sand? Or a wich (whatever that is)? Why are we eating food between bread and where did the word sandwich come from?

Well, sandwiches get their name from John Montagu — the 4th Earl of Sandwich, a historic town and civil parish in the Dover District of Kent, south-east England. Montagu was an 18th-century English politician and nobleman.

A painting depicting John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich and the namesake of a beloved meal.

Despite being the British first lord of the Admiralty during the American Revolution, you don’t often see Montagu’s name in history books. Probably because he was often accused of using his office to obtain bribes and to distribute political jobs, but that’s neither here nor there. Let’s not focus on insignificant political grumblings for too long, rather, allow me to shed a little light on his greatest accomplishment, some might even say his magnum opus.

To date, linguists disagree on the exact circumstances of the word sandwich’s origins, but there is a consensus around two possibilities. The first is that the 4th Earl of Sandwich consumed his food between two pieces of bread to avoid having to leave his gambling table, leading his fellow gamblers to begin asking servants for “the same as Sandwich” and, later, just “a sandwich.”

The second line of thinking, perhaps one more respectful to the legacy of Montagu’s work, is that he ate his food in this manner so he could continuously attend to his desk and political commitments.

Regardless of which story you prefer – you can’t convince me he wasn’t a food-loving gambler – the origin of the word sandwich is a great story to tell your family and friends the next time you’re all sitting around the table enjoying a John Montagu.

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