Marcy Brook



Published 2019-08-05 23:30:00.943531 UTC

There is one topic that is more controversial than any other I dare dip my toe into, and that debate is regarding the definition of a sandwich. As a result, I must make it clear that this is an opinion piece and you are more than welcome to disagree.

With that in mind... In my opinion, there are times when descriptivism paradoxically necessitates prescriptivist attitudes. Specifically, if you wish to maintain that descriptivism's objectivity is the "correct" way to go, it is necessary to counter the particularly zealous prescriptivist agendas that tend to arise from ultracrepidarianism, and this can be thought of as a form of prescription in and of itself.

So why is this relevant to sandwiches? Well, this kind of trending prescriptivism has shown up multiple times with regards to food. For example, people have often made smug claims that cereal is a form of soup, or vice versa, citing dictionary definitions that desperately try to include all edge cases, allowing for unrelated and distinct objects to "technically" fall under these definitions. These ill-conceived notions wholly rely on the shortcomings of prescriptivist documentation, and there should be absolutely nothing wrong with refuting these claims with a concise "obviously not". Another example would be the disparity between the botanical classifications and the more household groupings of things like bananas, tomatoes, and peanuts, but you could write a book just discussing those.

One particular trend tries to highlight the nebulous definition of sandwiches by making absurd claims that foods like hot-dogs are "technically" sandwiches. Obviously not. For a start, the definition of a sandwich is only indistinct as a result of this poor prescriptivist record-keeping. The average person is spectacularly good at identifying what is and isn't a sandwich, but once someone is introduced to this controversy, their opinion on the matter poisons the previously unwritten consensus.

The ( definition of a sandwich is as follows: A sandwich is a quantity of edible filling sandwiched between two slices of bread. Easy (And to clarify further: the verb "sandwich" means "to insert between two other things"). Now, lets clear up the edge cases. A slice of bread is a piece of bread produced by slicing some bread, so subs, baguettes, paninis, and burgers are all types of sandwich. It is important to note, however, that these are subclasses of sandwiches; all paninis are sandwiches, but not all sandwiches are paninis. Another criterion for a sandwich is that it can fit in one's mouth. As fun as sandwiches made from entire loaves, or "earth sandwiches" are to conceptualise, they are not sandwiches.

There IS a "default" sandwich, which is a cold sandwich with bread sliced from a loaf. This is a gold standard for a particular test I image to help me classify sandwiches: If a reasonable person ordered a sandwich from a cafe, how surprised would they be to receive that item? With this default sandwich: not at all; which is what makes it a sandwich. Those subclasses of sandwiches would prompt some unexpectedness, but can be attributed to the preference of the establishment. If you received a bagel, on the other hand, then something has gone wrong and your order has been messed up.

This brings me to the main topic that inspired this post: Hot-dogs. They are not sandwiches by any stretch of the imagination. I hate the showerthought-born insinuation that "tEchNIcAllY" they are, because it falls down on every test. Firstly, it does not have two pieces of bread. I can accept that one piece of folded bread can fulfil that criterion, but a hot-dog bun is not that at all; it's a single roll with a slit in the top. The filling is not sandwiched between the bread; it rests in a cavity at the top of the roll. You eat a hot dog differently to a sandwich as well; besides manuevering one's head to make up for the tragedy of design that is a hot-dog, you would generally eat it in its vertical position, and you rest it on a plate in the same way. Any vaguely sandwich-related food would literally fall apart in this position.

Most importantly, there is a difference between a hot-dog sausage sandwich (i.e. sausages between two slices of bread) and a hot-dog, and if you ordered one you would expect explicitly not to receive the other. That is the crux of my argument if you value descriptivism at all. The usage of words determines the definition, and the idea that hot dogs are sandwiches is held purely for controversy and does not hold up outside of linguistic discussions.