“Snowclone” is a word for a kind of transferable, reusable pattern of phrase, such as the original “X have Y words for Z” (on the pattern “Eskimos have fifty-five (or pick your number) words for snow“, so transferable to “The French have no word for entrepreneur“, or whatever), or “X is the new Y” (on the pattern “white is the new black”), and so on. The term was coined by a Language Log reader, and it has a Wiki page, and an online database. Back to this later on.
“Sandwich” is a word for (among other things – see “Sandwich Police Make Burrito Bust“) a lunchtime delicacy constructed from one or more tasty items placed between two slices of bread (or two halves of a bun, or whatever). OED tells us the first recorded use is in Gibbon’s journal entry of 24 November 1762. By 1861, the noun had been verbed, to mean “to insert (something) between two things of a widely different character.”
It’s this non-edible sense of ensquishedness that Charles Dickens picks up, in 1836, to refer to “an animated sandwich, composed of a boy between two boards” and OED records a series of compounds that extend this sense in various directions: sandwich-board, sandwich course, sandwich student, sandwich beam, sandwich-boat (one of those Oxbridge terms that OED disproportionately records).
A “knuckle sandwich”, on the other hand, is something you “eat,” or at least take in the mouth. It’s in OED s.v. “knuckle”, with two quotations from 1973: “Ottawa Jrnl. 17 July 23/3 Give the guy a knuckle sandwich and let the teeth fall where they may.” Wiktionary antedates this use by more than a decade:
OKKIE. (Raises his fist, kissing the knuckles menacingly—follows her to bottom of steps.) How would you like a knuckle sandwich?”
The enclosedness of a sandwich is lost in “knuckle sandwich”, but it’s there in “shit sandwich”, which is also something you have to “eat”, (OED 1.d fig. “To submit to, ‘swallow’ [an insult, an injury]” – marked archaic but I think it has come back into use since the entry was written in 1891) though you don’t take it in the mouth, exactly. This idea can refer to different things, but plays up the importance of the “bread” as a way of concealing or making more palatable the “filling”.
So, in management speak, a “shit sandwich” refers to “a technique for giving feedback that involves sandwiching critical, truthful feedback (the shit) in between two slices of praise” [iDoneThis blog]. Refer back to the verb.
Then there’s the winning sentiment: “Life is like a shit sandwich. The more bread you have, the less shit you have to eat.” Which is a joke I once heard Mel Gibson tell.
“Shit sandwich” strikes me as a good snowclone template candidate: there must be all sorts of situations we would like to describe as an X sandwich, with X concealed or coated or passed-off somehow. Here are some I’ve managed to collect off the internet. [Why political scatological X Sandwich should skew so much more towards wingnut than moonbat (see Mel Gibson anecdote) is a mystery to me]:
Responding to Obama’s likability being a factor in this race, Allen West says that Obama is basically feeding America a crap sandwich with a smile and that it’s very important for us to win the images war in the presidential race. Because a crap sandwich with a smile is still a crap sandwich! [foxnews.com, 25.8.2012]
Note that this tour de force first presents a snowclone [X sandwich] within another snowclone [X with a smile], and then wraps it in a snowclone! [X with a Y is still an X]!
In a closed-door session with House Republicans, Minority Leader John A. Boehner just called the financial rescue deal a “crap sandwich” – then said he’ll vote for it when it comes to the floor Monday. [Politico, 28.09.2008]
This is another ‘crap sandwich!’ Yes it is. A ‘crap sandwich’ on white. White bread, I’m not allowed to eat white bread anymore. [dailyrushbo, 21.6.13]
“An Annoyance Sandwich with a Side of Glamour” [poem title Lindaspoetry.blogspot.com 5.8.2009]
Everyone in line is just as annoyed about having to wait in line so hearing you complain about it just adds to the annoyance sandwich. [brianexplainslife.blogspot.com, 5.11.2010]
I was an annoyance sandwich between two slices of happiness (I love the rain). [vendorsdaughter.wordpress.com, 28.1.2012]
See? It’s a bunch of suck sandwiched between 1,000m rows! [“A Suck Sandwich” 10.10.2009]
okay so i got pulled over today.and the cop says” no matter how you take a bite out of it youve been served a suck sandwich” [mrsmoniz on babycenter.com, 20.1.2010]
Antonia has been on fire, but the heat in the Bahamas is just the right recipe for a fuckup sandwich for her. [“Mr Mortisay” on The Mainboard, Top Chef: All Stars 3.3.11]
[Update: a great clone sandwich, reported at LL back in 2011: “Satan Sandwich“]. The quote, again from US political nonsense:
For me, “sugar-coated” is redundant, since the sugar coating, much more current idiomatically than sandwiching, essentially does the same job. But Satan between buns is super.]
These clones all have their individual appeal, but for me “nothing sandwich” deserves more currency:
The both of us making a nothing sandwich. Now that’s sad as hell, but I’m still living here. I feel sorry and sad. [Melody Davidson, Ain’t Nothing like being Married to an Old, Elderly Man, 2011]
“Are we overplaying our hand? … I don’t know the answer,” Heller said. “Granted, Democrats have the best hand today on what direction they want to go … But this is a nothing sandwich that can’t get enough votes with both sides involved.” [Las Vegas Sun 16.10.2013]
Treasury had responded. I opened my laptop and downloaded their letter, eager to see what they had given us. The answer? A big nothing sandwich. [Elizabeth Warren, A Fighting Chance 2014]
What they end up with is not religion but an “I’m okay, you’re okay” nothing sandwich, bearing no relation to the God of the Bible. [Michael Muldowney, I was a Teenage Liberal, 2011]
But the left isn’t the only object of disdain
. “I’m sick of this effete GOP nothing sandwich,” (Breitbart) adds, growing more animated. [Time 25.3.2010]
Actually, nothing sandwich is what got me started on this post. It came back to me yesterday when I was reviewing some photos of the birth of my daughter four months ago. I came across this shot I took of the hospital meal on recovery day: