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THEY ARE “POOR” NOT “PO’” BOYS

Errol Laborde

This might be a losing cause but someone has to say it. The indigenous sandwiches are “poor boys” not, as is becoming more common, “po’ boys.”

This, our Best New Restaurant issue, seemed like a good time to bring up an old issue: the right way to refer to the sandwich. “Poor boy” is the correct term because of the sandwich’s origin at Martin’s, a restaurant on St. Claude Avenue. In 1929 streetcar workers went on strike. In support of the penniless workers, the restaurant (owned by Benjamin and Clovis Martin, two former streetcar workers), offered inexpensive sandwiches consisting of sliced French bread, roast beef pieces and gravy. They named the creation in reference to the strikers, “poor boys.”

Through the years the name became modified, I suspect by sign painters who saved space by referring to the meal being served inside bars and joints as “po’ boys.” That was innocent enough – no one’s going to take something painted on a beer sign as definitive – but in speech there’s always gravitation toward a common language. That is how “beignets” became “doughnuts.”

Every publication has its style rules, most set by a national service such as the Associated Press, but there are some local phrases for which we have made our own call. Within these pages the phrase is “poor boy” unless someone is quoted saying it differently, and muffuletta is spelled with a “u” in the center just as it is at Central Grocery, not an “a” as used in other places.

Compared to all that this city has gone through, the name bastardization of one of its native foods is a small issue, but in this case it’s especially unfortunate because few foods have a name that’s more descriptive of its origin than “poor boy.” Consider this a preservation issue. Stick with the right name, for better or for worse, for richer or for po’-er.

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