A mission of journalism is to defend what is perceived to be right, even if it’s a losing cause. That being the case, once more this space presents its argument for the proper naming of our native sandwich. It should be “poor boy,” not “po-boy.”
This issue is raised again by our cover story, which is about rating the best of the roast beef versions of the sandwich. As a publication, it’s our style to keep the “poor” in poor boy.
Our argument is based on history. The sandwich originated as an inexpensive way to feed streetcar workers who were on strike. The Martin Brothers put lettuce and tomato between slices of French bread and for a pittance, or nothing at all, fed the “poor boys” who were suffering financially from the strike.
Eventually the sandwich became popular and was served with various stuffings, though the roast beef remains to us the definitive version.
Somewhere along way the name became corrupted to “po-boy.” We suspect the fault was with sign painters at various neighborhood groceries and joints who had limited space on the wall menus and outdoor boards. To save what amounted to two letter spaces, the “poor boy” became the “po-boy.” Precedent was also on the side of the downgrade. As though forced by gravity, it’s the nature of words to become shortened. (Thusly did “foot-ball” and “base-ball” each become one word over time.)
We wouldn’t be so concerned about the bastardized name except that it betrays the sandwich's origin. Few foods have a name that is as descriptive of its historical and cultural past as does the poor boy, so why disguise it?
There is little reason to be encouraged about the true name surviving into the next generation. Just about every place that serves the sandwich uses the abbreviated form, as does the annual festival to honor the dish. (Changing that alone could help reverse the trend.)
At the very least, we do make this offer: If any food service place that uses the proper name lets us know, we will gladly plug it in this space.
Meanwhile, our lonely crusade continues; for better or for worse, for richer or for po-er.