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.

You Might Also Like

Favorite Forces

Recipes From Café Reconcile and SoBou

10 Things To Do in New Orleans This Weekend

Our top picks for this weekend's events.

Quenching Your Inner Beach Thirst

Have a taste of the beach wherever you are with these 4 cocktail recipes.

10 Things To Do in New Orleans This Weekend

Our top picks for this weekend's events.

Basic Training

An explosion in business catering to vegan and raw diets

Reader Comments:
Jul 4, 2010 08:59 pm
 Posted by  Russell B.

hey cuz.....being one who gets upset at those who spell my name with just one 1 I agree with you on this po boy issue.
Hope all is well with you and yours.
russell j. bordelon

Jul 15, 2010 08:56 pm
 Posted by  Lauren

Re: "Poor boy" vs "Po-boy"

I agree with you that we should keep the spelling "Poor Boy," but disagree with your reasoning that sign painters made the abbreviation for space.

My dad, rest his soul, always counted "One-Two-Three-Fo' and of course said "Gawd" and "Noo Awlins" (Frank Davis is the only person I know who says "N'Awlins"). I can't really remember how he pronounced the local sandwich, but I would imagine that if he saw the words "Poor Boy" he would have said "Po Boy."

By the way, I never hear "Fo" for "Four" anymore. And everyone I know now says "poor boy" not "po boy" (Well, actually, it's more like "pooah boy!")

Great article. Thanks, Lauren

Jul 18, 2010 06:56 pm
 Posted by  K&B

You poor boy! How hard it must be for you and your elitist brethren to maintain your purist standards in the face of the “name bastardization” of our native sandwich. Some may criticize you for what they perceive as your superior attitude; but I thank you for pointing the finger at all of us who so insensitively order “po'boys”. Because that was the name used in my family for several generations and is innocently used by the majority of people around me; I find it very difficult to now conform to your idea of correctness and to bring myself to casually order a “poorboy” (at least without smirking). So I, most humbly, beg your pardon.

Add your comment:

Latest Posts

Banh Mis and Mosaics

Celebrating a birthday and a community

Upper Nine Doughnut Company: Making New Traditions

An interview with Glenn Haggerty, co-owner of Upper Nine Doughnut Company

New Rules for Men's Summer Suits

Making the case for expanding white linen suit and seersucker season

Tourist Trap

Slowing down enough to appreciate New Orleans

What 'Kale Gate' Says About Finding Kale in New Orleans

Missing the point of the great kale debate