Most everyone is familiar with the sub sandwich: a long sub roll split in half, filled with meats of one’s choosing and toppings galore, from lettuce to tomatoes to slices of cheese.
In New England, the sub sandwich has many different names, says New England magazine. In Connecticut and Rhode Island, the sandwich is frequently called a “grinder,” whereas up in Maine you’d be more likely to hear “Italian sandwich.”
In Boston, however, there is a specific name for this common sandwich — a “spuckie” (sometimes spelled as “spukie”).
Readers such as Valerie W. from Stoughton are curious: Why do some Bostonians call subs “spuckies”?
“Where did the name Spukies come from?” she asked. “Spukies were subs when I was coming up in Boston. Where did it originate from?”
One possible explanation comes from the Italian words spaccata and spaccare, which both mean “to split,” says Tom Damigella, president of the North End Historical Society.
“We had a roll like a sausage roll, and what you’d do is split it, so you’d put the cold cuts and make a sandwich in that roll,” he said. “So we did it, spaccata became to split the roll, and spaccata became spuckie.”
Another origin story for the term spuckie comes from spuccadella, an Italian bread commonly used for the sandwich, according to Tony Luke’s, a popular Philly cheesesteak chain.
Although many restaurants list the sandwich as a sub today, other establishments, such as Vinal General Store in Somerville, offer a “spuckie” specifically. Many ingredients in the “Vinal Spuckie,” as it’s listed on the menu, have Italian origins, such as mortadella, genoa salami, and provolone.
“I wanted to highlight our Italian sub with more of a Boston-specific name,” said Chloe Nolan, general manager at Vinal General Store. “That’s what my dad when I was growing up, and my grandmother, always called an Italian sub, was just a spuckie. I wanted to pay a little homage to the Boston roots around here.”
The term used to describe the sandwich largely varies from person to person, and their word of choice can heavily depend on their age, Damigella says.
“I think it’s more of a term that I grew up with,” he said. “I’m 76, so I think that it’s not as familiar with the younger generation — I think — so it depends upon who’s asking the question.”
Nolan shared a similar sentiment, saying she’ll often notice people from certain generations say spuckie, even though many restaurants list the sandwich as a sub.
“If I’m talking to somebody or I’m hearing somebody from a certain generation, they’ll say, ‘I’m going to go get a spuckie for lunch,’ or something like that,” she said.
Yes, the use of the word spuckie appears to be in a decline, and possibly has been for decades. A Boston Globe article from 1986 discusses changes in Boston neighborhoods, as well as with area-specific words and phrases. One of the words mentioned in the article? “Spukie.”
Today, it is not uncommon for someone in Boston and its surrounding areas to have never heard the word spuckie before. Nolan said that oftentimes, people who see the spuckie on Vinal General Store’s menu will get confused and call it something else.
“Most people think it’s just a name that we made up, and they’ll call it all sorts of different things, a ‘spooky,’ a ‘spuckle,’” she said.
Although the word spuckie has largely faded from Boston’s dialect, it lives on with those who grew up ordering one at their local deli or hearing relatives say it, says Nolan.
“If they know what a spuckie is, if they’re from Boston, they’re really tickled that we have that on the menu and go, ‘Oh, that’s what my mother used to call it!”
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