This is one of the more famous word origin stories, appearing in many elementary school textbooks. The dish, consisting of two slices of bread filled with meat or some other savoury, is named after John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich (1718-92). Montagu was a great gambler and spent many long hours at the gaming tables. During these lengthy sessions he was fond of eating such a bread-meat concoction because he could continue gambling while he did so. His name became associated with the dish in the 1760s.
The first recorded use of sandwich, referring to the dish, is from Edward Gibbon’s journal of 24 November 1762, where he writes:
I dined at the Cocoa Tree...That respectable body...affords every evening a sight truly English. Twenty or thirty...of the first men in the kingdom,...supping at little tables...upon a bit of cold meat, or a Sandwich.
Montagu was not the inventor of the sandwich. People have been sticking meat between slices of bread for millennia. But his social status was such that he created a culinary fashion trend in the mid-18th century and the name stuck.
The earl gets his title from the town of Sandwich in Kent. The oceanside town is named after sand + wic (hamlet or dwelling), or literally sandy town.
Copyright 1997-2013, by David Wilton