Almost everyone knows the sub sandwich: a long sub roll split in half, filled with meats of their choice and toppings galore, from lettuce to tomatoes to slices of cheese.
In New England, the sub sandwich goes by many different names, said New England review. In Connecticut and Rhode Island, the sandwich is often called a “crusher,” while in Maine you’ll probably hear “Italian sandwich.”
In Boston, however, there is a specific name for this common sandwich: a “spuckie” (sometimes spelled “spukie”).
Readers like Stoughton’s Valerie W. are curious: Why do some Bostonians call submarines “spuckies”?
“Where does the name Spukies come from? ” she asked. “The Spukies were subs when I came to Boston. Where is he from ?
A possible explanation comes from the Italian words spaccatate And spaceboth of which mean “to divide,” says Tom Damigella, president of the North End Historical Society.
“We had a bun like a sausage bun, and what you did was split it, so you put the cold cuts in and made a sandwich in that bun,” he said. “So we did, 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 Philadelphia cheesesteak chain.
Although many restaurants today offer the sandwich as a sub, other establishments, such as Vinal General Store in Somerville, specifically offer a “spuckie.” Many of the “Vinal Spuckie” ingredients, as listed on the menu, have Italian origins, such as mortadella, Genoa salami and provolone.
“I wanted to highlight our Italian sub with a more Boston-specific name,” said Chloe Nolan, general manager of Vinal General Store. “That’s what my father, when I was a child, and my grandmother, always referred to as an Italian submissive, were just a spuckie. I wanted to pay a little homage to the Boston roots here.
The term used to describe the sandwich varies greatly from person to person, and the word they choose can depend heavily 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 it’s not as familiar to the younger generation – I think – so it depends on who’s asking the question.”
Nolan shares a similar sentiment, saying she’ll often notice people of certain generations say spuckie, even though many restaurants list the sandwich as a sub.
“If I talk to someone or hear someone 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 seems to be in decline, and has been for perhaps decades. A Boston Globe a 1986 article discusses changes in Boston neighborhoods, as well as words and phrases specific to the region. One of the words mentioned in the article? “Spukie.”
Today, it’s not uncommon for someone in and around Boston to have never heard the word spuckie before. Nolan said that often people who see the spuckie on the menu at Vinal General Store will be confused and call it something else.
“Most people think it’s just a name we made up, and they call it all kinds of different things, a ‘scary,’ a ‘spuckle,'” she said.
Although the word spuckie has largely disappeared from Boston dialect, it endures among those who grew up ordering one at their local grocery store or hearing loved ones say it, Nolan says.
“If they know what a spuckie is, if they’re from Boston, they’re really excited that we have it on the menu and say, ‘Oh, that’s what my mom called it!’
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