To a New Yorker, a hero isn’t a guy who rescues children from burning buildings or jumps on a grenade to save his comrades in arms. No, a hero is a really big sandwich. This term for a sandwich, called in other parts of the country a submarine, a grinder, a poor boy, or a hoagie, dates to at least 1947. From the New York Naval Shipyard Shipworker, 19 February of that year:
The picture of Frank La Barbera in the last issue of the Shipworker showed him eating a large ham sandwich. They should take a snapshot of you, Frank, when you devour your 3 Heros at lunch time.
Its origin is a bit of mystery, but the most likely reason for the name is that it is a big sandwich and takes a heroic effort to eat it.
It’s sometimes claimed that New York Herald-Tribune food columnist Clementine Paddleford coined hero in the 1930s, but searches of her columns have failed to find any use of the word by her.
Others claim that it comes from gyros, the Greek sandwich. This is almost certainly incorrect. English use of gyros isn’t attested to until 1968.
Copyright 1997-2015, by David Wilton