By Shawn Proctor
Meatballs or veggie. Italian or American. Perhaps no city loves its take on the venerable sandwich as much as Philly loves the hoagie.
And as another Hoagiefest dawns, courtesy of that other beloved Philadelphia mainstay Wawa*, we sing a song in praise of this classic, portable meal. Where did the term hoagie originate? Well, that origin is as twisted as a pretzel.
According to Jeopardy!, the answer could be one of several possibilities. In 1986, a clue suggested the nickname came from the workers who at them for lunch at Philadelphia’s Hog Island shipyard. In 2000, another piece of trivia said it was synonymous for pig.
Rachel Wharton and Kimberly Ellen Hall note in their book, American Food: A Not-so-serious History (available in the Falvey collection), they trace the name from linguist Howard Robboy who interviewed Italian jazz musician Al DePalma. According to DePalma, the original name was hoggie, an indication of the kind of appetite needed to eat the sandwich and he changed the spelling to hoagie, since everyone pronounced it that way already.
“Robboy’s primary goal in writing his paper, by the way, was to show that the American language-and by association, our culture- wasn’t collapsing into homogeneous conformity,” the authors note. “On behalf of all big-sandwich lovers out there, I am happy to report he’s still right.”
If you want to learn even more about the history of foods, including hoagies, I recommend checking out Discovering Vintage Philadelphia: A Guide to the City’s Timeless Shops, Bars, Delis & More, available as an ebook through Falvey.
So get out there and enjoy some Philadelphia food. Sample some jawn. Taste a jawn. Or savor a bunch of jawn. As they say in Philly (or they should): “Bone appetite!”
*Note: According to another Jeopardy! clue, aired in 1998, the term Wawa comes from Ojibwa and means goose. Likely the reason the Wawa logo features the wild bird so prominently.
Shawn Proctor, MFA, is Communication and Marketing Program Manager at Falvey Library.
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