sandwiches, more particularly bacon sandwiches

On Fridays, I sit and work in a cafe with a little group of writing friends, and I've got(ten) into the habit of ordering the same thing for lunch each week (just because it makes calorie-counting easier). Giving me what I've ordered has, alas, not become the habit of the (AmE) waitstaff. So, when my special order was agreed-to but not delivered at a new cafe, I grumpily posted the following on Facebook:

To quote myself, from the previous toast post:
Now, I endeavo(u)r to maintain a descriptive rather than prescriptive attitude toward(s) language on this blog, but I have no hesitation in being prescriptive about toast.
That little Facebook post generated more than 40 comments and 2 additional Facebook posts that afternoon. Then I tweeted about it.  All of this was pretty catastrophic for my productivity that day. But, TOAST!

There are two cross-cultural differences that may have triggered my unsatisfactory lunch. The first is a fairly linguistic problem: the on.  The second is a culinary-cultural problem that is linguistic to the extent that it involves the meaning of sandwich.  And appended to that is the bacon sandwich problem.

Problem 1:  on 
The on problem is that I used an AmE meaning for on in my on toast. This usage would be recogni{s/z}ed by a lot of Brits from television, hearing people order a pastrami on rye or some such. (See my past discursion about semantic drift in the naming of pastrami sandwiches here. Note: I've never seen a sandwich on rye bread anywhere but on American television while in the UK.) But on is not what would be said in BrE, especially for toast, because this idiomatic use of on clashes with BrE use of on toast, as in scrambled egg on toast. There, the egg is put on a slice of toast*, but no sandwich is made. (Americans might call it an open-face(d) sandwich--on toast.)

Some overly pedantic British commenters at my FB/Twitter posts (you know who you are) insisted that I had asked for a bacon sandwich placed on top of a piece of toast.* I call them 'overly pedantic' because while I may not always get what I want when I place this order, no one has ever tried to give me a sandwich atop a piece of toast. It is a possible interpretation, but not one that any waiter would go for. To make it known that I wanted the sandwich bread to be toasted, my English friends tell me I should say with toast, but I fear that I might get a side order of toast in this case. I have since had success asking for (and receiving) my sandwich by saying "could the bread be toasted, please?"

If I had said I wanted a toasted bacon sandwich, I would have got(ten) another thing: cooked bacon put between bread and then heated in a (BrE) sandwich toaster/(AmE) [toasted] sandwich maker (or more recently: panini maker). At one of the cafes we work in, such sandwiches are pre-assembled and put in an opaque, label(l)ed bag, which one can select and then hand to the person at the counter, who toasts it for you. It's ok, but not as good as a bacon sandwich on/made with toast. This is my opinion. Or it may be a fact.

Problem 2: the sandwich problem
I've dealt with the sandwich problem before at the baked goods post. Let me just quote myself again:
As an American, I can make a sandwich using sliced bread, a roll, a bagel, whatever. In the UK, sandwiches are made with sliced bread, and anything else is called by the name of the bread it's in--for example, a ham and cheese baguette. A bacon roll is bacon inside a roll that's been sliced in half (usually with ketchup or brown sauce), and is a popular hangover treatment.
Add to the list of things Americans can make sandwiches with: toast. You might think that's the same thing as sliced bread. You might be wrong. (I love this old Calvin & Hobbes comic that recogni{s/z}es that it isn't.)  I have seen British sandwiches toasted (again: the old toastie post), but I can't recall seeing any made with toast. Lots of open-faced things on toast (eggs, sautéed mushrooms, [AmE] canned/[BrE] tinned spaghetti or beans, about which another post must be written), but not with another piece of bread on top.  Americans make lots of sandwiches with toast, particularly when breakfast foods are involved. I couldn't believe it the first time I saw Better Half make a fried egg sandwich with untoasted bread and ketchup.

Of course, when such disagreements occur, one is bound to hear an English person say 'but we invented the sandwich, so we get to say what it is'. I note/ask here (a) putting things between bread was happening a long time before the 4th Earl of Sandwich had the thing named after him, (b) who is this we who invented [or named] sandwiches? You weren't there. The world of foodstuffs-between-bread has changed between the 18th century and now, and you weren't even around for most of that. It's like when football fans (of either type) say "we won!" No, you didn't. You watched someone else win. You may have enjoyed it, but you didn't do it. But there is no doubt that the English are serious about sandwiches. Here's one of three sandwich-filled fridges in a shop in Brighton station. My American food sensibilities generally keep me from buying any of them.

One of my English FB friends responded to my desire for a bacon sandwich on toast with "No such thing. A sandwich is a sandwich, on toast is on toast." To which some Americans replied "but a club sandwich is always on toast". I'm not sure that's always absolutely true (but Wikipedia seems to agree with them), but it is typical. And it's something that's escaped the attention of some dictionary-writers, including the OED:

Problem 2': the bacon butty problem
The other thing that Americans said was: "a BLT is always best on toast". So here is the crux of our problem. Not only do we have different sandwich cultures. We have very specific different bacon sandwich cultures.

To Americans, the prototypical bacon sandwich is the BLT (or bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich).  It's usually made with mayonnaise and the bread is usually toasted. Like so:

To the English, the prototypical bacon sandwich  is the bacon butty aka bacon sarnieJust bacon and optionally ketchup or brown sauce on (usually) buttered, untoasted bread (supposedly brown sauce is the more northern way to have it, but most people I know down south prefer it that way too, as do I). (The Wikipedia entry for this is pretty [BrE] rubbish. C'mon UK Wikipedians! Priorities!) This (orig. AmE in this sense) guy took this photo to celebrate his Father's Day breakfast:

And this picture looks just like what I get in the cafes, but they give me much less bacon (which is good for the calorie-counting, not so good for the sandwich). I must note here that in both the non-toasting cafes, the thing on the menu was bacon butty.  So my whole trying-to-get-toast thing was probably doomed from the start.


* According to GloWBE, slice of toast is much more common in BrE (63 instances) than in AmE (8), but both can have a piece of toast. The differences are not so clear if one looks at piece/slice of bread.

P.S. [6 June 2014] I forgot about rounds! In BrE, people talk about rounds of toast and rounds of sandwichesI always find this confusing. Here's the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary definition:

8 (British English) a whole slice of bread; sandwiches made from two whole slices of bread
  • Who's for another round of toast?
  •  two rounds of beef sandwiches
So, if it's toast, it's one slice of bread. But if it's a sandwich it's two. If it's cheese on toast, it's one. If it's a cheese toastie, it's two. Got to get that into my head. Except that I just ordered what is described on the menu at this café as "Toast and jam - a round of white or multi-cereal bread..." And I got two slices.  No wonder I get confused. 

And why rounds of sandwiches? Is there any difference in meaning between two beef sandwiches and two rounds of beef sandwiches?  Answers in a comment, please!

Until I get my act together and revamp the blog to have this info in a margin, I'm going to continue to commit acts of shameless self-promotion at the ends of posts.

Upcoming talks:
And I'm halfway through my year of providing mini-essays on British idioms to Focus (UK) magazine, if you're interested.


  1. Yecch! Photos are disgusting. Toast. Please.

  2. But the toast would go awfully soggy in those cardboard triangles... but then, from the previous post on toast, it would appear that Americans take their toast soggy, as witness their lamentable lack of toast-racks.

    Seriously, though, a sandwich on toast is best made at home; who wants a sandwich made by a waitress who has not washed her hands since taking the previous customer's money? And who has then dipped then in the little bowls of tomato and cucumber to pick out a slice our two for your sandwich. Most unhygienic!

  3. I have to admit, this post surprised me. I'm British, I live in Liverpool, and back when I worked somewhere with a staff canteen I quite often went in there for a "bacon toastie" for breakfast. This was two slices of toast with bacon in between, just as you want - and not by any means made in a panini maker or anything like that.

    Honestly, the only thing that I find unusual about your lunch request is that it IS lunch - I definitely associate bacon toasties with breakfast.

    Bacon butties or bacon baps/rolls/etc are more common definitely, but bacon toasties certainly exist in this country too, at least in the north!

    I have to agree that "on toast" conjures up images of one slice of toast with bacon on top, though.

  4. Very entertaining, many thanks Lynne!

    More on sandwiches:

    In Hiberno-English (HbE?), it's perfectly fine to order a nice BLT sambo.

    However, I've been told that given the meaning of this word in American English, it's preferable to avoid asking for a "sambo" over there (especially if you want it toasted).

  5. I do a really nice bacon sarnie on my own home-made rye bread if you care to come up this way Lynne! Toasted is an option.

  6. "Hi, Lynne! Long time listener, first time caller!"

    I'm an American who would immediately know you wanted both pieces of bread toasted before applying bacon, etc.

    However, I have spent many years in Germany where Toastbrot is not necessarily toasted bread! There, the mushy, white bread best used to make toast is called Toastbrot, whether it has yet -- or ever will be -- toasted. It is not a very popular bread in Germany. But when you find it in a grocery store, it is sold in a plastic bag just like in the States. And it is labeled Toastbrot even though it has not yet seen the inside of a toaster.

    I wonder if Britain might have some such bread or brand of bread as well. This might help explain the confusion -- and the mushy bread on either side of your bacon!

  7. Having lived in Liverpool and now living in York, I'd agree that I've seen bacon butties on toast, although it's far more common in Liverpool that York.

    It's not unknown here but you have to specifically ask for it. In Liverpool, from memory, I'd say it wasn't commonly offered but it would be offered often enough it wasn't a surprise (maybe 15-20% of places) and if you asked, I'd expect every shop to do it. How that's changed in these days of Starbucks, Costa, Caffe Nero etc. I couldn't say.

    And, of course, as a veggie, it's all quite academic anyway!

  8. Eloise-- how would you phrase your order for it, if you wanted it toasted?

    Clearly, my spiritual home is in the North.

  9. Oh by the way, re BLTs - they ARE common here, but not on toast. I mostly associate them with baguettes, but you do find BLT sandwiches with sliced bread too (generally cold bacon in this context IME).

    Also, the 'bacon barm' is probably more common here in Liverpool than bacon butty.

  10. Why would you want a bacon sandwich on toast? I could understand a BLT -- which is a sandwich filling -- but the whole point of the bacon sandwich/roll/butty is the grease! It has to soak into the bread (possibly with tomato/brown sauce soaking into the slice the other side). That wouldn't work with toast. Doorsteps are best.

  11. Why would you want a bacon sandwich on toast? I could understand a BLT -- which is a sandwich filling -- but the whole point of the bacon sandwich/roll/butty is the grease! It has to soak into the bread (possibly with tomato/brown sauce soaking into the slice the other side). That wouldn't work with toast. Doorsteps are best.

  12. Why would you want a bacon sandwich on toast? I could understand a BLT -- which is a sandwich filling -- but the whole point of the bacon sandwich/roll/butty is the grease! It has to soak into the bread (possibly with tomato/brown sauce soaking into the slice the other side). That wouldn't work with toast. Doorsteps are best.

  13. Graham (very contrite)28 May, 2014 12:06

    Oops -- sorry for the dupes. The captcha rejected me about a dozen times for some reason and then I didn't notice when it eventually worked!

  14. Lynne:

    Your post reminded me of my years in France.

    I remember the first vtime I ordered a "Sandwich jambon" (ham sandwich).

    What arrived on my plate was half a baguette, with a relatively thick slice of ham.

  15. Lynne, if somebody told me that a strange American woman wanted a bacon sandwich on toast, — and if I couldn't speak to you personally to pin down what you actually wanted — then call me a pedant but I suppose I really would make a bacon sandwich and place it on a slice of toast.

    I'm still not sure what you do want. I've narrowed it down to two possibilities, which I would describe as:

    1. a bacon open sandwich on toast

    2. a bacon sandwich made with toast

    I suspect that British toast is harder than American toast. The sort of toast that I'm used to would make any sandwich made with it really tough and dry. Not a problem with a toasted sandwich because the bread is toasted on one side.

    Try this rigmarole:

    I'd like a bacon sandwich, please, but could I have it made with lightly toasted bread?

  16. Lynne, just like I might order it "on brown" or "on white" I'd order it "on toast" or "on brown toast" I think.

    That said, these days I'd probably have a panini (which should surely be a panino in the singular?

  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

  18. David - I've never had any problem with my toast being too dry, not with bacon - the grease softens it a lot especially if you butter the toast first! (That's made with sliced bread.)

  19. I'm from England and, before I went to stay with relatives in Ireland a couple of years ago, I had no idea you even *could* make a sandwich with toast (except for a 'toastie').
    I do it all the time now, it's basically doubled the amount of sandwiches available to me :)

  20. This usage would be recogni{s/z}ed by a lot of Brits from television, hearing people order a pastrami on rye or some such.

    Recognising isn't the same as understanding. Most of us Brits would recognise the term eggs sunny side up but very few of us know what it means.

    On rye, on wholemeal etc pose no problem because they don't conflict with any British usage. On toast just happens to be homonymous (if that's the word) with a phrase that has a very entrenched and different meaning in out culture.

    Egg on toast is the archetypal light meal for children (or at least it was when many of us were children).

    Beans on toast is the snack that expats would pine for in places like Egypt when you couldn't get baked beans in the shops.

    Ben Crystal (actor son of David) wrote a book to make Shakespeare enjoyable. He called it Shakespeare on Toast subtitled Getting a Taste for the Bard. His introduction concludes:

    This book is certainly not the only way into Shakespeare.

    But it is quick, straightforward and good for you.

    Just like beans on toast.

  21. You were quite right. I began reading before breakfast and am madly salivating throughout writing this. A BLT with cheese on toast with mayonnaise really appeals about now. When I was in the army in Germany, the civilian cafeteria on our little artillery post made what was essentially a BLT on toast with a cheeseburger inserted (with mayonnaise or some sort of sweet dressing). The German proprietor called it a “Western” burger. They were delicious.
    I was given some weird, totally dry, rigid toast at a small hotel near the science museum in Chicago. I sent it back. I thought of asking for real (pliable) toast, but desisted. It is amazing how different some little things can be in what started out as a common culture.

  22. Lynne --

    If I understand your complaint correctly, the bacon sandwich you ordered arrived incorrectly in two respects:

    1) the bacon was placed on a single slice of bread and

    2) the bread wasn't toasted

    Is that right? It seems to me most of the comments from the right side of the Atlantic have focused on the two-slices-of-bread versus one-slice-of-bread question and essentially none have explained why your request for "a bacon sandwich on toast" resulted in your receiving your order on an untoasted slice of bread.

    Or maybe the sandwich divide between the British and the Americans is just too wide to be crossed.

    BTW: have you ever seen Sam Shepard's play True West? Act II spends a good deal of time on the miracle that is toast. (But just toast. If I remember right sandwiches don't come up.)

  23. Lynne --

    If I understand your complaint correctly, the bacon sandwich you ordered arrived incorrectly in two respects:

    1) the bacon was placed on a single slice of bread and

    2) the bread wasn't toasted

    Is that right? It seems to me most of the comments from the right side of the Atlantic have focused on the two-slices-of-bread versus one-slice-of-bread question and essentially none have explained why your request for "a bacon sandwich on toast" resulted in your receiving your order on an untoasted slice of bread.

    Or maybe the sandwich divide between the British and the Americans is just too wide to be crossed.

    BTW: have you ever seen Sam Shepard's play True West? Act II spends a good deal of time on the miracle that is toast. (But just toast. If I remember right sandwiches don't come up.)

  24. No, sorry. Maybe I'd better go back and clarify. What I got was an untoasted bacon butty, just like in the bottom picture.

  25. Ugh. Your "Please prove you're not a robot" tool appears to be broken. It told me my first attempt was unacceptable and gave me another combo to try, but clearly the first was acceptable because my comment ended up being posted twice. Blast! My apologies.

  26. Lynne, another form of ordering that might get you what you want:

    Bacon on toast with another piece of toast on top..

    The stranger you make the wording, the better. The danger is that the waiter/waitress, the cook, or somebody in-between will translate what you say into the familiar words bacon sandwich with their familiar but untended meaning.

  27. @Mrs Redboots: a lack of toast-racks is the very opposite of lamentable. A toast-rack is a device for serving cold toast. Yuk.

  28. Honestly it sounds like a ditsy waitress rather than any cross-cultural misunderstandings were the cause of the cock-up here.

  29. @David Crosbie: I agree about recognising not being understanding. Until I read this, I didn't realise that AmE "on rye/etc" *didn't* mean "on a single slice of rye/etc". "On" means "on", not "in", surely? Baffling.

  30. In neither case was it a waitress. Shame on you, Iain!

    The toast rack debate already has a couple of homes on this blog. See:

  31. Lynne: Perhaps the best solution to your dilemma is to make a bacon sandwich at home, photograph it, make a wallet-sized print, and show it to whoever waits your table.

    To remove all doubt, you might need to photograph the sandwich assembled and unassembled and print the two images side by side as a single photograph.

  32. I can't imagine *any* kind of edible thing being placed between two slices of toast. (Well, or any kind of inedible thing, but that seems irrelevant.) Toast goes underneath. End of story.

    But as somebody commented, none of this explains why what you got was untoasted after you explicitly asked for toast, nor how to achieve what you want. On the latter point I think you are doomed. Something to look forward to on your next trip back across the Atlantic.

  33. Although I've heard talk of "pastrami on rye" in American TV shows, I've never understood what it meant. I still don't undertand, to be honest.

  34. Toast racks! Excellent for cooling your toast before it gets to the table and rubbish for providing warm yummy toast.

  35. @David Crosbie: "Wholemeal" is actually not something any American would say. We call the bread "whole wheat," although in a restaurant, people usually just say "on wheat." Even though the white bread is also made from wheat, "wheat" in this context means whole wheat.

    I first encountered the British term "wholemeal" in a book about the Epping jaundice of 1965. I immediately knew what the term had to mean, but I was flabbergasted that whole wheat bread was considered such an exotic item in 1965 England that a bakery couldn't get whole wheat flour through normal channels, and it had to be specially delivered (on a truck of building supplies and chemicals, which got spilled on the flour bag, ultimately causing the jaundice outbreak).

  36. I think the problem is that to us Southern English a sandwich is always made with soft, sliced bread (even if it's toasted afterwards). What Lynne is after - some bacon between two pieces of toast - is not a 'sandwich' to us. So the request sounds like nonsense, and we just disregard the part of the order that makes no sense.
    (My name's also Graham, but I'm having the opposite problem to the other Graham with the 'prove you're not a robot' thing: It's accepting my guess at the gibberish, and my comment appears briefly, but then vanishes again. Infuriating.)

  37. Buzz

    Even in 1965 there was a market for bread other than white. Traditionally we enjoyed white and brown, but there was something browner still made of a proprietary flour called Hovis.

    (Hovis still exists but as brand which also covers white bread and other baked goods.)

    Hovis (the original sort) is more like white bread in texture that wholemeal bread.

    Similarly, the only rye bread available in 1965 — and still the most popular type — was made of more white wheat flour than rye flour. It generally had caraway seeds and was targeted at the Jewish market (in 1965, that is, less so now).

    PS Are you really really sure that whole wheat and wholemeal are the same? Obviously, they both involve not removing stuff from the grain, but are they milled to the same degree of fine-ness?

  38. Sorry about the problems with posting--if it's any consolation, they're affecting me too.

    I do know that I need a bread post. I also need a bacon post. Pretty much any kind of food that doesn't have a post needs one. I knew that I was skirting those issues while writing this, but the post is/took long enough!

  39. I think the problem is that to us Southern English a sandwich is always made with soft, sliced bread (even if it's toasted afterwards). What Lynne is after - some bacon between two pieces of toast - is not a 'sandwich' to us. The request sounds like nonsense, so we disregard the part of the order that 'does not compute'.(I'm having the opposite problem with the 'prove you're not a robot' thing: It's accepting my guess at the annoying indecipherable gibberish, and my comment appears briefly, but then immediately vanishes again. Infuriating.)

  40. Look what I've googled...

    Is wholegrain the same as wholemeal?

    Though given the similarity between the words, you'd be forgiven for asking.
    The word wholemeal is (in theory) protected by law.
    The Bread and Flour Regulations 1998 demand that:
    1) There shall not be used in the labelling or advertising of bread, as part of the name of the bread, whether or not qualified by other words -
    (a) the word ‘wholemeal’ unless all the flour used as an ingredient in the preparation of the bread is wholemeal;
    (2) No person shall sell or advertise for sale any bread in contravention of this regulation.

    The Food Standards Agency’s guidance notes on the Regulations point out: ‘The term “wholemeal” is not defined in law, however it is generally accepted that wholemeal flour is the entire wheat grain, which contains the bran and the germ.’
    Quite how well this is working is something we question in our A Wholegrain of Truth? report.

    The word wholegrain is afforded no such protection.

    (from the Real Bread Campaign website)

    Elsewhere I've discovered an ex bakery-worker (presumably British) who seems to say that where (s)he worked whole wheat bread had coarse-milled wheat added to wholemeal flour.

    Sites with a North American perspective point out the differences between US and Canadian standards of whole grain wheat four. US seems to resemble our wholemeal while Canadian is more like our brown.

    Real foodies observe a distinction between stoneground wholemeal flour, which grinds everything together, and cheaper roller-milled wholemeal, which separates off the germ and bran, then reconstitutes the ingredients in the normal proportions.

  41. I think it's more of less the same in America. "Whole grain" products just need to have some whole flour, but "whole wheat bread" should be 100%. (I think.) There's also the stoneground flour, and foodies do know what that means, but it's a pretty obscure term; I would have to stop and think the remember what it meant.

  42. The more people type here about bread, the less motivated I will be to do the bread post! :P

  43. I worked for some time in Egypt long before international phone calls were commonplace — let alone emails. We were delighted to receive long chatty and amusing letters from my father. These he would start up and return to at odd times without checking the pagination. I seem to remember a letter with no less than three page 4's.

    What has this got to do with sandwiches? Well, have you noticed how many Problem 2's there are in your OP?

    One of them contrasts BrE insistence on slices with AmE allowance for any bread product. I think the reason for British preference is the assumption that sandwiches are composed of three layers of equal are and approximately equal thickness. This carries over into derived and figurative uses of the word:

    • A sandwich course consists of periods of study alternating with broadly similar periods of work.
    • Panels composed of layers of different materials are described as sandwiches
    • A sandwich man carries two boards of height and width comparable to his torso — just the right height and size for readable adverts.
    • A knuckle sandwich suggests a fist so powerful that it seems to be one third the size of the face it's punching.

    By contrast, rolls, baguettes and bagels when split are too thick and round to seem like comparable layers;

  44. There is problem 2 and there is problem 2' (two prime). Just the right number for my claim that there are two basic problems and a sub-problem, right?

  45. I've been to plenty of cafes, usually cheaper ones, where you order a toastie and get a sandwich made with two slices of toast rather than something made in a toastie maker. Personally I find this disappointing; I prefer "proper" toasties.

  46. @David Crosbie: I feel I must dispute your claim (if I correctly interpret your somewhat oddly edited-to-be-ungrammatical text which I'm sure was just a cut'n'paste glitch) that we Brits expect a sandwich to have three roughly equal layers. Maybe in your part of the UK... but I expect the filling to be much thinner than the bread slices. Jam butty? Peanut butter butty? I like my bread thicker than a layer of jam might achieve.

    I also think you're pushing the equal-thickness thing a long way in your examples. Most egregiously, a knuckle sandwich is more likely (IMHO) to be simply "inner knuckles sandwiched between outer knuckles".

  47. Turning attention briefly away from the clearly endlessly fascinating topic of bread and bready offerings (and, dear lynneguist, how dare you suggest that you won't do a post on that!), I was wondering if saying "we won" when in fact one merely watched someone win is simply a perfectly good example of metonymy. But you're the linguist.

  48. Anonymous

    but I expect the filling to be much thinner than the bread slices.

    Even in a jam sandwich the filling isn't much thinner. Besides, it's slice-like and flat. It's a layer. The two halves of rolls, bagels, baguettes are not only vastly much thicker, they're not remotely like layers.

    And surely an 'inner knuckle sandwiched between outer knuckles' is nothing more remarkable than a fist.

  49. Lynne

    There is problem 2 and there is problem 2' (two prime).

    Another example of cultural non-communication. I was aware of some AmE uses of two prime etc, but not that one.

  50. I don't think of that as American. I think of it as mathematical/philosophical/linguistic. Term of art, rather than dialect.

  51. To quote Wikipedia: "In mathematics, the prime is generally used to generate more variable names for things which are similar, without resorting to subscripts – x′ generally means something related to or derived from x. "

  52. It's the derived from variant that I'm not familiar with.

    The British convention that I'm familiar with would have 2a or similar.

    It doesn't help that in Linguistics it's pronounced bar! (I'm trying to catch up on Syntax.)

  53. Yeah, I wasn't thinking of the bar usage so much as having examples that are 'example (2)' and '(example (2')'.

    I think I'm reaaaaally old-fashioned using it these days. But it's a holdover from my undergraduate Linguistics & Philosophy days. (Lots of logical proofs.)

  54. I would summarise by pointing to the following three cases:

    (1) Food on top of a piece of toast.

    (2) Food in between two pieces of toast, where the two pieces of toast are fused together around the edges during the cooking process.

    (3) Food in between two pieces of toast, where the pieces of toast are separable.

    As an Australian, I insist that (3) is a sandwich but (1) and (2) are not, even though those demonic devices for making (2) are called sandwich makers.

    And yes, I have strong opinions about sandwich makers. They are evil, in contrast to the old-style toastie-toaster, which are not evil but for some reason are not manufactured anymore (probably something to do with the approach of the apocalypse).

    Modern sandwich makers compress the contents too much, making it impossible to fit much food between the two pieces of bread.

  55. David: I'm British, studied maths and linguistics, and am completely happy with Lynne's use of "prime". I don't think it's American.

  56. And slightly off topic... the OED blog posted a piece today about a different usage of toast. I always knew you were influential of course but that takes the biscuit!

    (On the prime debate, it strikes me as a technical/academic usage, not an American/British one. It certainly didn't jar me.)

  57. Don't be tempted to think that the solution to this puzzle is to ask the British waitstaff for a 'toast sandwich'. You may get a piece of buttered toast between two slices of soft bread. This is not a joke ! It came up recently in Jay Rayner's 'Kitchen Cabinet' on Radio 4.

    I think it's not so much the equal thickness of the layers as their evenness that qualifies a stratified thing as a sandwich, metaphorical or actual.
    It would take an awful lot of jam for the jam in a jam sandwich to be as thick as the bread. Several jarsful, I'd guess. In fact in my youth 'jam sandwich' was a slang term for a police car, precisely because police cars were big and white with a thin (but even) red line going all the way along the side. I doubt anybody uses the term nowadays. Modern police cars look more like battenburg cake.

  58. Lynne

    I wasn't thinking of the bar usage

    I never thought you were. But I was already strongly reminded of the usage and your mention of Linguistics made it super-salient. It's a weird phenomenon for any reader, even weirder for me as I haven't heard anybody speak about linguistic tree diagrams since 1974.

    Maths I haven't studied since 1960, and then not up to a level that used 'prime' notation.

    Clearly we're not talking about differences between great BrE and AmE cultures. But it is a convention that's more at home in some technical sub-cultures than others. And, I suspect, more with some generations than others. It had no place in the disciplines that I studied at the time when and at the places where I studied them.

    The only usage I'm at home with is to mark parallel examples. (I don't suppose I'll ever be at home with X-bar syntax .)

  59. Grhm

    I think it's not so much the equal thickness of the layers as their evenness that qualifies a stratified thing as a sandwich, metaphorical or actual.

    Yes, that's largely true. But I can't help feeling that there comes a point where a doorstep sandwich is no longer a sandwich. At a thickness somewhat short of a tin-loaf cut in half.

    (if I'm honest, I'm actually less hard-line than I've implied about split baguettes. The shorter the length, the less I bristle at the description 'sandwich'.)

    Nor can I think of it as a sandwich when one slice of bread is normal and the other a great thick half-dorrstep.

  60. Re Grhm's "I think the problem is that to us Southern English a sandwich is always made with soft, sliced bread (even if it's toasted afterwards). What Lynne is after - some bacon between two pieces of toast - is not a 'sandwich' to us. The request sounds like nonsense, so we disregard the part of the order that 'does not compute'." - I disagree with that.

    While the default option in sandwiches is definetly made with untoasted bread, sandwiches made with toast don't sound like nonsense to me (as a southern Brit) at all - just a non-standard variant that you'd have to specifically ask for.

    I often have Bacon sandwiches made with toast, both at home (it's a nice alternative with a different texture to the classic bacon sarnie) but also at cafes. I think I ask for it as a bacon sandwich made with toast. We have a cafe at work where bacon sandwiches are probably the most common breakfast order and I reckon at least a third of people go for the toast option.

  61. People in Britain are aware of one particular bacon sandwich in the news. During the election campaign for some local seats and (yawn) the European Parliament, political journalists enjoyed themselves hugely over the inelegant attempt by Labour lead Ed Milliband to eat a bacon sandwich in public.

    I've only just studied the photos, and I think I see an explanation. The sandwich was mad not with the customary slices of Mother's Pride (a proprietary brand of factory-made thinly-sliced-and wrapped white bread, often used as a quasi-generic). Rather somebody has devised a more upmarket with hand-cut slices of some loaf that wasn't made in a tin, so has a big of a crust all round.

    The slices were thick and no doubt tough at the crusty edges, so Ed had to exert pressure with his jaw. This shouldn't have been so bad with a different sandwich filling, but bacon is liable to slip around unless you keep a grip on the surrounding bread. Easy with Mother's Pride, less so with thickish, crustyish slices.

    Poor Ed just couldn't co-ordinate the unusual demands of strong handgrip and strong tooth action, while at the same time keeping his head and hands poised and relaxed for the cameras.

    It would be just the same with a bacon sandwich made with the sort of toast that I make. I suppose the trick is to use Mother's Pride and not to make it too hard and crisp.

  62. @David Crosbie:

    "And surely an 'inner knuckle sandwiched between outer knuckles' is nothing more remarkable than a fist."

    Well, quite. "Fist" and "knuckle sandwich" are entirely synonymous in my book.

  63. @David Crosbie:

    "Nor can I think of it as a sandwich when one slice of bread is normal and the other a great thick half-dorrstep."

    No indeed, but where did this notion of an asymmetric sandwich get mentioned?

    Oh and Lynne's "prime" seems entirely correct to this mathematician.

  64. According to the food historian in Heston Blumenthal's programme about sandwiches, the good Earl's original food was "cuts of meat between slices of toast."

    Those pesky colonials might have remembered the derivation of the name properly.

  65. Geoff:
    I bow to your expertise. Although I've not come across it myself, I am prepared to accept that something between two pieces of toast could be referred to hereabouts as 'a sandwich made with toast', in the same way that, for example, a custard cream might be referred to as 'a sandwich made with biscuits'.

    But if Lynne asked for a 'sandwich on toast', that really does sound like nonsense, and I can understand why busy 'waitstaff' [I do like that Americanism] would simply ignore the 'on toast' part, assuming they must have misheard.

  66. Anonymous

    where did this notion of an asymmetric sandwich get mentioned?

    I offered it as a hypothetical object — a test of any proposed definition of sandwich.

    Lynne's "prime" seems entirely correct to this mathematician.

    No doubt. It's simply that I personally had never (knowingly) come across that use.

  67. Yes, you are right, David: along with evenness, vertical symmetry is another essential aspect of sandwichhood. That is one of several reasons that a burger in a bun isn't a sandwich.

  68. @David Crosbie:

    "I offered it as a hypothetical object — a test of any proposed definition of sandwich."

    I like it. Testable hypotheses. Science at its very best. It was just that I was wondering if you had ever *seen* such an entity, and how it might have been labelled.

    "No doubt. It's simply that I personally had never (knowingly) come across that use."

    Indeed, I think various of us have said it seemed ok as a mathematical thing (and as I ponder it I remember that it can also be used for the *literal* "derivative" (mathematically speaking) i.e. d/dx. But you happened to mention that in linguistics it's called "bar" which added to your confusion (fair enough given that you might expect Lynne to be using it in that sense) so I was wondering what that sense was ie.. what linguistic notion/form/whatever "bar" indicates. (I know, there's always Wikipedia.)

  69. @Myself:

    Apologies for the dangling parenthesis.

  70. "Nor can I think of it as a sandwich when one slice of bread is normal and the other a great thick half-dorrstep"

    Yes, you are right, David: along with the evenness of the layers, vertical symmetry is another essential aspect of British sandwichhood. That is just one reason why in BrE a burger in a bun is not a sandwich. And neither are those elaborate over-filled things you sometimes get that have to be held together with a wooden skewer.

  71. Anonymous

    But you happened to mention that in linguistics it's called "bar" which added to your confusion

    Feigned confusion, I confess. Sorry, this was an in-joke that I knew Lynne would understand. In my defence, a pertinent in-joke, but still somewhat self-indulgent of me.

    Briefly, Noam Chomsky devised abstractions to be manipulated in his syntactic theory. For example, something related to the category VERB but playing a different role in the structure. He already had the symbol V for VERB, so he assigned v with a macron over to for the other. I'll see whether this software can reproduce it:

    v̄ (v with macron) v̅ ( with combining overline)

    The spoken description is pronounced vee-bar. And it's just an example; of single letters there's N-bar, S-bar and so on. The type of which they are tokens is termed X-bar.

    So far so straightforward, but this developed back in the days of typewriters. And even computer systems standardised their character sets no wider than ASCII. People couldn't easily type or print X-bar, so they substituted the prime symbol.

    Alas, when they changed the symbol, they didn't change the name. So the spoken form of X' is x-bar.

    Yes I was genuinely confused when I first read about recent syntactic theory — not having heard a formula read aloud for the last forty years. By now, I understand the mis-match, but still find it ridiculous.

    If you want to know what this all means, there is a Wikipedia entry X-bar theory but it's impenetrable — and without a decent set of links to explanations. Much better (though still a bit tough) is the entry in Pam Peters's Cambridge Dictionary of English Grammar, plus explanatory cross-references. Better still, I'd say is the Second Edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar.

  72. @David Crosbie:

    Thanks for the explanatory background. And the pointers. When I've got a spare few hours I'll have to brush up on my parsing terminology.

  73. As a home counties Brit, I would make a bacon sarnie with fresh white bread but toast the bread if it was getting a bit stale, to liven it up a bit.

  74. I've only ever made bacon sarnies with dipped bread.Both pieces of bread are dipped in the hot bacon fat just long enough that they are not fried.Fried bread would be close to toast.(Sixty-something near Liverpool)

    1. A sarnie made with two slices of bread and butty made with one slice of bread folded over.

  75. All you need to do is order "A bacon sandwich made out of toasted bread."

    Job done.

  76. What my husband likes, and I only quite do, is to grill the bacon on top of the bread, turning both over at the same time. It is an odd mix of crispy and soggy that I am not sure I like.

    Meanwhile, for me, the ideal bacon sandwich is on a heavily-seeded bread with avocado and tomato, either slices with a little mayonnaise, or turned into guacamole and spread on the bread before the bacon is added.

  77. Love this post! Well done on 'could I have the bread toasted, please?' I must remember that.

    Here's a link to my version written from Australia, 'Bread Rolls, Baps, and Butties'

    Since relocating to the UK I have fallen in love with bacon butties in what I would call a white dinner roll. Otherwise *definitely* want it on toast :)

    Cheers and enjoy.

  78. I have had confusing moments with my roommates (a pair of sisters) over the word "toast". Their father is British and they have adopted some of his "less-American" vocabulary. They have referred to sliced bread as "toast", whether or not it is toasted. I'm not sure if this can be attributed to the British influence or if it's more of a family-shared idiolect.

  79. Not all BLT's in the UK come made with toasted bread. I go to a little café in my small town and ask for a BLT (oh btw they are Portuguese).. and I say could I have my bread toasted please. As it normally is made just with bread not toast.

    Yes I agree with Lanta, we would not say "On toast" as that would normally mean Bacon ON toast.

  80. Ooops I meant to say the people who run the café are Portuguese :-)

  81. They have referred to sliced bread as "toast", whether or not it is toasted. I'm not sure if this can be attributed to the British influence

    This is not a Britishism. It must be a family thing of theirs.

  82. Three points occur to me:

    1. Temperature - these UK bacon sandwiches are HOT, or at least require hot bacon: streaky bacon would fit better in soft sliced bread ('Mother's Shame', as a friend used to call it), to absorb the grease, while toast would be appropriate for better quality back bacon as less grease will be produced in the grilling/frying. And ketchup is fine for both versions!

    Am I correct in thinking that, in contrast, an authentic BLT or a club sandwich is a COLD snack? Serving it with cold pickles and (AmE)chips/(BrE)crisps suggests so.

    2. Toasting technique. At home one could put two slices of bread into a pop-up toaster to synchronise with cooking the bacon: the combination would thus be hot all through. One would expect a cafe in the UK to have such a basic piece of kitchen equipment!

    The Liverpool Anonymous comment about dipped bread reminded me of my childhood - my mother (from Sunderland area) also liked this, but called it dippen bread. It is definitely not fried, but scoops up the 'goodness' from the pan.

    3. Cutlery. I would eat a sandwich in toast or dippen bread with a knife and fork, on a plate. However, I confess I am visualising a fried egg in the middle, rather than bacon - and I like a soft yolk! Beans, fried/poached/scrambled eggs or mushrooms on toast, would also be eaten with a knife and fork, British-style. Each mouthful includes toast with a topping of hot eggs etc. The alternative serving with separate toast suggests the 'American style' of eating with a fork only, helping food onto the fork with a triangle of toast.

  83. Biochemist - the bacon and toast are hot, the lettuce and tomato are cold, and you eat the whole thing before they come to the same temperature. No knife or fork needed for the sandwich, pickle, or chips.
    BLT's are for the hot afternoons at end of summer when you can get really good ripe tomatoes, so you don't want your lunch to be too warm. (Good bacon is nice, good bread and lettuce are preferable, but the tomatoes make or break the sandwich.)

  84. Canadian BLT lover (streaky bacon only!)04 June, 2014 03:17

    As a Canadian with American parents, I've never had a problem with the different meanings of "on toast". Everyone I know would say "BLT on toast" or "can I have it on toast" to mean "made with bread toasted prior to making the sandwich". Often the prompt would come from the server (e.g. "On white or brown toast?"). The open-faced definition, to me, doesn't conflict. Egg on toast and beans on toast both mean a substance heaped on a single piece of toast. I think the normal configuration of the contents sets up the context: a ham sandwich is usually between bread, therefore "on toast" would mean toasted bread, and to specify a different set-up I'd clarify "open faced". Egg on toast means eggs on a piece of toast, so if I wanted an egg sandwich, I'd ask for a fried egg sandwich. Sometimes my fiance puts his scrambled eggs between toast: we refer to it as a scrambled egg sandwich, not egg on toast, because egg on toast is an established concept.

    Incidentally, my family always used "toasty" to mean open faced. i.e. a cheese toastie is cheese on a slice of bread, placed in the toaster oven, whereas grilled cheese is a sandwich made in a pan or (less deliciously) in a panini press. I wasn't familiar with the term toastie as the British use it until I visited there, where I was promptly made to wonder how North America has yet to catch on to the absolute heaven that is the brie and cranberry toastie. Seriously. The best.

  85. A couple of years ago the The Register conducted a search for the ultimate bacon sarn[y/ie] you might wish to check-out the third placed version, which - if I am not mistaken - is on toasted bread!

    I particularly enjoyed the take on the correct recipe for the ultimate bacon sandwich which was "... that the essential ingredients for pork nirvana are bread, bacon, and then more bacon, perhaps with a dash of brown sauce, topped with a tad extra bacon."


  86. Something that came up earlier in this post, and seems to be a theme in the different food preferences is soft vs. hard/crunchy.

    I remember it was a topic in the baked goods post, (re. cookies) and now here.

  87. Oh, and also, it seems like, aside from when it is served in toast racks, Toast in in the UK is generally served with something on top of it that "soggies" it. Beans, egg, etc.
    And is then eaten with utensils.

    In the US, toast, being much less of a "staple", is almost never eaten with utensils. There will be the occasional Fried Egg item, or something "open faced" that is particularly messy, but 90% of the time, it is eaten with the hands.

  88. Bill

    I think you've hit on a pattern: two manifestations of toasted bread:

    1. toast and .....crisp.......fingers..............e.g. toast and marmalade
    2. on toast......soggy......knife and fork....e.g. beans on toast

  89. David Crosbie -

    That almost works. Except that "cheese on toast" is eaten with the hands...

    You can also get "and toast" - "bacon, eggs and toast" for example generally implies that the toast is a separate or side item; you wouldn't usually hear that used to describe bacon/eggs either on top of or in between slices of toast.

  90. Lanta

    Except that "cheese on toast" is eaten with the hands...

    Not in my experience.

    I suppose it depends what you mean by 'cheese'. I presume you think of cold cheese sliced or grated onto bread that's left the toasting environment. I think of hot cheese, itself toasted while the bread, though toasted, is still under the grill.

  91. David Crosbie -

    Not at all, I'd never call anything with cold cheese 'cheese on toast'. It's cheese melted onto the toast under the grill.

    I always eat this with my hands - albeit there can be a need to wash my hands afterwards, but it's not too bad as long as the cheese doesn't fall over the side of the crust.

  92. Lanta

    In that case, our only difference is that I would never eat cheese on toast with my hands.

    OK, that's too sweeping. I would always try to avoid eating it with my hands. If forced to do so, I would be excessively careful, and feel that I was doing something unnatural and dangerous.

    (An exaggerated fear, yes, but the cheese would recently have been scalding hot.)

  93. One point that no one's mentioned --
    the American BLT will be made with streaky bacon, whereas the British bacon sandwich will presumably have back bacon? Since those are the default "bacons" in each case.

    A BLT with back bacon really wouldn't work very well, I don't think -- the crispness and grease are essential.

  94. David Crosbie, Anon: Surely it's "knuckle sandwich" not because of layers, size, etc., but because the victim will be taking it in the face/mouth.

  95. And, of course, the other great divide is between smoked and unsmoked - and, perhaps, grilled and fried. My daughter grew up eating grilled, unsmoked back bacon, which I prefer in my bacon sandwiches (or whenever else I eat bacon, for that matter), and now eats fried, smoked streaky.....

  96. I've avoided dealing with bacon here, because it needs its own post. What is sold in the UK as 'streaky bacon' looks like US bacon, but fries nothing like it. It's all very complicated...

  97. I remember when there was a third choice along with back and streaky. I started a google search but found something much more interesting: Felicity Cloak's Guardian feature: How to cook the perfect bacon sandwich.

    This is extreme stuff, starting with flour and yeast to make a suitable roll to be toasted on one side only. She also summarises what various celebrity chefs recommend. And there's a picture of Jamie Oliver's preferred version, which looks pretty much like Lynne's elusive ideal.

    The term I was searching for is collar bacon.

  98. PPS
    Felicity Cloake write of middle bacon, which I think is the same thing as collar bacon.

  99. Canadian here. I think I'm more confused at the thought of cooking bacon under a grill, which I believe I would call a broiler. Is there someway you do this without heating up the entire oven? Are salamanders common?

  100. Grills, on British stoves, may or may not be in the oven - very often they are separate, at what is called eye-level, but is actually somewhat lower the that. However, wherever they are situated, they have their own separate heating element, nothing to do with heating up the oven. One puts the food on a dedicated "grill pan", which usually has some kind of removable mesh tray so that surplus fat drains off the food.

    I do not know what you mean by a salamander in this context, though. They may or may not be common, but whatever they are, we don't call then that!

  101. Thank you, Mrs Redboots.

    A salamander is the restaurant kitchen version of the nearly eye-level grill of which you speak. I believe that the name came from the image of the pan handle as a tail of the fire elemental creature form of salamander that the amphibians were once reputed to be in ancient bestiaries.

    I've never seen one in a home here in Canada nor in the parts of the US where I've visited. Having never lived in a home where we cooked with gas except for a short-term rental when I was about 8 years old, the concept of grilling/broiling something quickly doesn't resonate. I suppose I'd use a toaster oven if I had one to approximate the process.

  102. detailbear

    Some people in Britain lack grills on their kitchen stoves. Ironically, they tend not to be deprived households, but unusually rich owners of a modernised version of an old-fashioned stove made by the Swedish firm Aga.

    (Domestic novels set among affluent village-dwellers are facetiously called Aga sagas.)

    To produce the equivalent of grilled food, they place a heavy ribbed skillet-type thingy on the stove top. In BrE, it's called a griddle pan. Here's a picture of one. Although shaped like a frying pan, it produces food of a different texture, as the bacon or whatever cooks in dry heat.

  103. I (British) have never understood the relationship between a round of sandwiches and a slice of bread - I would tend to think that what you get in those cardboard packets in the post's first illustration is a 'round', i.e. made by sandwiching egg, mayo and cress for example between two slices of bread. However, once you have sliced the resulting sandwich diagonally to fit into the box, you could argue that you now have two sandwiches .... in fact Pret a Manger now offer the option of a thinner package holding a sandwich made using only one slice of bread - you could buy two different flavours to make up the original 'round'.
    By the way, the square-ish bread loaf suitable for sandwiches is sold in its unsliced form in 'proper' bakers shops as a 'white sandwich loaf'. It is usually ten times better in flavour and texture - and toast-ability - than 'Mother's Pride'

  104. Biochemist

    However, once you have sliced the resulting sandwich diagonally to fit into the box, you could argue that you now have two sandwiches.

    There are times when it depends on whether you're the producer of the consumer. If you make a sandwich knowing that it's likely to be cut into portions, you may think of it as a round. If you pick up a single portion to eat (whether it's the whole production unit, a half, or a quarter) then each one is a sandwich.

    In your box example, the two halves become two sandwiches if you give then to two eaters.

    I suppose we could call the contents of the box a round, but we seldom do. I suggest this is because
    • it wasn't us that made them/it
    • the two portions aren't displayed together on a plate

  105. Slightly OT: I'm an American linguist. I wondered about the origin of "sarnie" when I saw it in the OP. I was about halfway down this very long thread before it dawned on me:
    [+diminutive] → /'sɑ:nI/
    (R-less dialect spelling) sarnie


  106. "Yes, you are right, David: along with evenness, vertical symmetry is another essential aspect of sandwichhood. That is one of several reasons that a burger in a bun isn't a sandwich."

    Well, it's true that a burger in a bun isn't a sandwich, but if you replaced the beef patty with, say, sliced ham, you can make a perfectly nice sandwich using hamburger buns.

  107. I know the term 'salamander' (in the culinary historical context) as a heated iron used for browning the top of food before we had electric grills.
    I remember eye-level grills as a fad of the 1960s and 70s, when they were placed literally at eye level so that you could check on the progress of cooking without drawing out the grill-pan. The inconvenience of handling food at that height outweighed the advantage, so the manufacturers reverted to putting the grill below the hob.

  108. " can make a perfectly nice sandwich using hamburger buns"

    No, that wouldn't be a ham sandwich, it would be a ham roll.

  109. For me, a fist is only knuckle sandwich if it's heading for, or has already arrived at, someone's mouth.

  110. I believe that British mathematicians say, or at least used to say, "dash" or "dashed" where Americans say "prime" or "primed".

  111. Once, somewhere in Britain, I made the mistake of ordering a chicken salad sandwich. Well, it was on the menu. All it turned out to be was a slice of soft bread topped with a very thin machine-cut slice of chicken, topped with a meagre and limp leaf of lettuce, crowned with another slice of bread. The phrase "chicken salad" means something in the US that cannot be inferred from the words "chicken" and "salad".

  112. Sandwiches made with toast make me think of the episode of Old Bear, presumably based on a book by Jane Hissey, where the toys decide to go for a last picnic of the year when it's pretty cold. Bramwell Brown comes up with the (novel! surprising! innovative!) idea of making the sandwiches with toast, and wrapping them in teatowels to keep warm, so the toys can have warm sandwiches with their picnic.

    As a child, this seemed as outlandish as using Little Bear's trousers as a double piping bag for icing.

  113. I admit, I am mostly shocked that none of your post was given over to explaining the differences between bacon(AmE) and bacon (BrE).

  114. I'm so happy to have found this! I came across your blog while searching for the British equivalent for summer squash, but stumbled upon this excellent article about bacon sandwiches. I'm English but lived in New Jersey for 8 years, during which time I became accustomed to my favourite (lunchtime!) sandwich of BLT on toasted white bread. I do also like the classic British bacon buttie but fancied my old favourite this weekend and so ordered a 'BLT with mayo on toasted white bread' at a sandwich shop. A specialty sandwich shop! I didn't think it was too hard a request, until I got my sandwich and realised to my horror that they had made a BLT on normal white bread then toasted in a panini grill. Not only was it flattened by the panini grill, better suited for sturdier ciabatta than flimsy sliced white bread, but the lettuce, as you can imagine, had been rendered a soggy green film. The whole thing was dripping from the hot (hot!?) mayo. Seriously?! Good to know after your blog that I'm not the only person to have experienced such ineptitude, and that it can actually be explained by a mere cultural difference (ahem). Thanks!

  115. Re your point on "rounds" of toast, I've always treated a round of toast as being based on the capacity of the toaster, e.g. a two slice toaster gives a two slice round. However I think more generally a round just equates to a serving, so if you just ate three sandwiches another round would be another three.

  116. I am British, and although I am not from Liverpool I also like my bacon between two slices of toast, although I have never tried doing this outside home (I would order a bacon roll in a café).
    As you note, in BrE sandwich means a specific thing (something between two slices of untoasted bread). Therefore a 'toasted sandwich' is naturally that whole thing toasted, not individual parts of it toasted. Everything else has a different name: bacon in a roll is a 'bacon roll'; bacon in a baguette is a 'bacon baguette'. The problem is that what you want isn't in a thing, it's between two things, so it has to be 'bacon in/between two slices of toast. If some English idiot can't understand this simple instruction, what can we say?!
    In BrE, 'on' means 'on top of', not 'in' or 'between', it's just that US-style deli sandwich bars are so endemic that everyone knows what 'on wholemeal' etc means. Outside (of) sandwich bars, I believe most Brits would naturally say 'with' not 'on'.

  117. Australian here, but I believe our naming is close to the UK.

    An XYZ Sandwich: something served between two slices of untoasted bread.

    XYZ on Toast: Something served on a toasted slice of bread.

    An XYZ Toasted Sandwich: Something served between two slices of bread toasted in a sandwich toaster (aka. sandwich maker)

    Asking for "bacon on toast" will get you bacon on toasted bread. If you want it in sandwich form just get the two halves and their associated bacon topping and create it yourself. :)

  118. AmE and BrE nomenclature are FAR apart in sandwich-making, clearly. But what is this 'brown sauce' that keeps coming up. Even Wikipedia did not help much.

  119. The most popular brand of brown sauce is probably HP Sauce.

    A similar sauce was invented by William Brand, a cook employed by George IV. He calmed that when he served it at the royal table, the King exclaimed 'Brand, this sauce is A1!'.

    I remember it from my boyhood, but nowadays the sauce has disappeared from the British market — except as an expensive import. In America, you call it a steak sauce. This link reports that, from a British perspective, 'A.1. Steak Sauce is a brown sauce that is runnier and fruitier than other brown sauces. The name seems to gives away its British origin — A1 was the top category of ships registered for insurance at Lloyds of London.

    There are various own-brand and unbranded substitutes for HP sauce. The commodity name is brown sauce.

    To complicate matters, some cookery writers use the term to mean something quote different: a sort of gravy made with browned fat and flour.

    Journalists were amused some years ago when some customers complained that a new-fangled coating on cookware by the French firm Le Creuset made it impossible to make a decent brown sauce. What a nation, to make a fuss about some poor fellow's bottled condiment!

    The OED is deficient, but Oxford Dictionaries Online supply both definitions

    1 A savoury sauce made with fat and flour cooked to a brown colour.
    2. A commercially prepared relish containing vinegar and spices.

  120. Here's a survey of brown sauces. All called 'brown sauce' except for HP and Daddies (I'd forgotten about that one.)

  121. HP sauce can provoke a torrent of nostalgia. In Birmingham, it's a 'lost' treasure that can't be enjoyed anymore since it was grabbed by a foreign firm. Others write of travelling from B&B to B&B and finding the same sauce bottles on the table. Many — myself included — remember the quaint blurb in French on the side of the bottle. To remind us, there's this posting on YouTube.

    The text seems to have changed over the years. This wording claims to be from 1917

    Cette sauce de premier choix possède les plus hautes qualités digestives.
    C'est un assortiment de fruits d'Orient, d'épices et de Vinaigre de 'Malt' pur.
    Elle est absolument pure, appétissante et délicieuse avec les viandes chaudes ou froides: POISSON, JAMBON, FROMAGE, SALADE, &c, et pour relever le goût des SOUPES, HACHIS, RAGOÛTS, &c.
    SEULS FABRICANTS Midland Vinegar Co. Ltd

    Cette sauce de haute qualité est un mélange de fruits orientaux, d’épices et de vinaigre. Elle est absolument pur et ne contient aucune matiere colouratif ni preservatif.

  122. AmE and BrE nomenclature are FAR apart in sandwich-making, clearly. But what is this 'brown sauce' that keeps coming up. Even Wikipedia did not help much.

    As wikipedia explains, its roughly similar to American steak sauce, or Australian barbecue sauce (Indeed HP Sauce is sold as a type of barbecue sauce in Australia). Its not at all similar to American barbecue sauce though.

    If thats still no help, its like ketchup/tomato sauce in consistency, but tangier and with a fruity taste. And a dark brown colour.

    If your looking for consistency between the languages; food, and especially condiments, is not the place to find it! :)

  123. Of course there are exceptions to national generalisations, but it's broadly true that Brits like the taste of malt vinegar.

    Traditionally, home pickles are steeped in vinegar and a mixture of pickling spices which are (or were) actually sold as such. Fish and chip shops provide (probably diluted) malt vinegar to sprinkle on food deep-fried in batter.

    What we don't like about vinegar is its sharpness and its strength. That's why we like the taste of vinegar modified by spices, sugar and a touch of fruit. Brown sauce gives us this taste combined with the texture that we like in condiments — the texture of English mustard and our version of tomato ketchup.

  124. Leaving aside the fact that a sandwich made with toast and containing bacon has to be one of the signs of the Apocalypse (is there anything you colonial chaps won't eat?), the correct term for such an abomination would be a bacon toast sandwich. Asking for anything "on toast" means placing the thing you asked for on toast. It's one of the few areas where British English has no room for ambiguity.

    However, bacon is best served (without butter) between fairly thin slices of bread. Also, bacon should be soft and succulent, not crispy and brittle.

  125. Lynn,
    American here...If you ordered a bacon sandwich on toast and were not served a bacon sandwich on toast why not just refuse it and tell them again more specifically what you had requested. Isn't it the restaurant's job to give you what you order? Are the British really so inflexible? Ridiculous!

  126. Jane

    Have you not read any of the postings by Brits?

    To a British English speaker, a bacon sandwich on toast can only be a couple of rashers bacon of between two slices of white bread served — for no conceivable reason — on a slice of toast.

  127. Canadian here - and one who adores bacon sandwiches/sarnies, but not when made with back bacon (CanE)/Canadian bacon (AmE)/peameal bacon (my late mother).

    In your situation, to avoid any ambiguity (not to mention the possibility that the waiting/kitchen staff might helpfully "correct" my order en route), I would request:

    * Two pieces of toast (ideally to be delivered while/st still hot!)
    * A side order of bacon
    * Some butter

    ...and assemble the whole thing myself :-)

  128. Regarding 'rounds', for toast I would probably say it corresponds to a toaster-full.

    For sandwiches, I feel like it refers to sandwiches made with two whole slices of bread. Particularly if the sandwich has been cut in half or quarters. I suppose formally, once cut into four, a sandwich becomes four sandwiches, but remains one round of sandwiches.

  129. I agree with David and Scott P. A sandwich has slices of bread as its top and bottom layers, and so has top-bottom symmetry. A burger in a bun isn't a sandwich. I have just had to pretend that this isn't true, in order to solve a captcha which made me tick whichever of the proffered 9 pictures was of sandwiches. None of them were, but I ticked the pics of burgers in buns as being the nearest approach. I passed the test, so /someone/ thinks burgers in buns are sandwiches!

  130. I am from South West England, Bristol to be exact. Here it is quite common to have a sandwich in a cafe made with toasted bread. If asking for one however I'd probably phrase it along the lines of "please can I have a bacon sandwich, and can the bread please be toasted"

  131. Wow! Too many comments to read them all, though I did note that some of them are extremely prescriptive ('the only way', 'the best way') and some are extremely literalist, so I'll just say that for me in London, who has been eating sandwiches for many years, a bacon toastie, should such a thing exist, would be a bacon sandwich, made and then toasted (or often and more tastily buttered on the outside and fried!) while for me a toasted bacon sandwich is a bacon sandwich made with toasted bread (no, literalists, not an untoasted sandwich made with bacon that has been toasted). I have the concept, I even eat the thing, so I have an expression for it, and that expression is 'toasted sandwich', and its existence is to my mind the reason someone invented the word 'toastie'.

    For the little that it's worth, in a cafe I generally prefer sandwiches with a hot filling to be made with toasted bread, partly because a hot filling will reduce sliced white cafe bread to a greasy thickness of about 1mm, while I like sandwiches with a cold filling to be untoasted. Club sandwiches are an exception and for me are always toasted. BLT - I will take whatever is offered.

    The things in bags, anything called a toastie, and panini(s- unfortunately; we can manage Latin pairs such as cactus and cacti but stumble at Italian panino and cappuccini) are all assembled first and then toasted, while a toasted [insert filling] sandwich ought to produce either a sandwich made with toasted bread or a request for clarification.

    The use (polysemic in my lexicon) of on, which like many other Americanisms I have adopted somewhere along the way for its utility, should seldom if ever generate a single slice of toast because the word sandwich requires two. In toast is an abomination; (in) between toast is just silly. If you don't want to use on try with, and if that produces toast and bacon separately take your custom elsewhere. Likewise desert any smart-arse cafe that produces an untoasted sandwich sitting on a piece of toast. And tell all your friends too.

    All that said, the usual response in a cafe to a sandwich order of the form "A(n) [insert filling] sandwich please" should be a variant of "White or brown?", to which you can reply "White, toasted, please", sidestepping any preposition difficulty. "Any sauce?"

  132. Perhaps you're just frequenting the wrong cafes! A bacon sandwich made with toast, or rye bread or sourdough or any other kind of bread, roll, bap, baguette or cob you like, with or without butter, sauce, or salad can be ordered at any of several of my local delis, cafes, or bakeries here in the English Midlands.

  133. The best use of bacon in a sandwich is something my parents served me when I was a child and I've loved it ever since.

    Toasted bread with peanut butter and bacon inside. Works the best with peanut butter like Jiff or Peter Pan, etc., that has some added sugar to sweeten it a bit. The slight sweetness of the creamy peanut butter combined with the crunchy saltiness of the bacon is pure heaven.

    It will change your life. Shall we share a toast to celebrate?

  134. BrE (Scot, 60+). Lynne, you have my coblete sympathy. You are experiencing several corollaries of Murphy’s law.
    If a waiter/waitress CAN misunderstand your order, they WILL.
    If kitchen staff CAN misunderstand waitstaff, they WILL.
    If there are 3 possible ways to understand your order, someone will find a fourth.
    In the days when I had a bigger appetite, I used to order a bacon sandwich and a sausage sandwich. I would carefully explain that they were both for me, and that I would like them both on the same plate. They nearly always arrived on two separate plates. I think the real problem is that, while the waitstaff understand what you want, they cannot work out how to write down what you wand in a way that the kitchen staff will understand.
    I have come across this very phenomenon in this piast. When people talk about a toasty, are they expecting the bread to be toasted on both sides, or just on one side. A lot of commenters have spoken about panini and panini makers. The context implies (to me) that a panini is just another name for a toasted sandwich. Now, in my neck of the woods (Wiltshire) I can buy panino in cafes, and they are a type of toasted sandwich, but always with a particular type of bread (longish rectangular “roll” of Italian-style bread). As I can buy both panini rolls and ciabatta rolls in the same supermarket, I have always taken these to be different.

  135. Is an American hamburger a sandwich? Yes. I'm old enough to remember when they were listed on restaurant menus that way. Hamburger Sandwich - 20 cents, with cheese 25 cents. In some places, hamburgers were still served on (or in) sliced (untoasted) bread, in others they were in (or on) a roll or bun that might or might not be what is now called a hamburger bun. Such a sandwich had lettuce and tomato and, optionally, onion and/or pickles. Usually with mayonaise, possibly with mustard or ketchup.

    Down the street at the drive-in, it still might be called a Hamburger Sandwich on the menu but more likely a Hamburger with its variation, the Cheeseburger. This would be on a hamburger bun with pickles, mustard and ketchup. You had to order a deluxe hamburger to get the lettuce and tomato.

    The language has changed, just in my lifetime, but in America, a hamburger is still a sandwich. Since BrE evolves faster than American, I suspect that it is the BrE definition that has changed.


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)