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15 What’s in your Portsmouth?

Some eponymous inventions from around the world

One of the best things about teaching/learning languages is that there is always an amazing new thing to learn, just one extra click, or one more flip of the page away.

While preparing for a lesson about food & drink recently, I was distracted by a side story about a Sliding Doors moment of history that meant that our word sandwich, which has been adopted by several other languages, could have been portsmouth instead.

Most people know the story of the 4th Earl of Sandwich (John Montagu) and how he gave his name, or rather his title, to the western world’s favourite snack. He was such an avid gambler that he did not want to leave the table for lunch, and instructed his cook to bring him a piece of beef betwixt two slices of bread and, voilà. A ‘sandwich’ was invented.

What most of us don’t know is that he was had hoped to be given the newly created earldom of Portsmouth, a more prestigious title at the time, but that went to his cousin, or brother-in-law, or whatever so he had to make do with the Kent town instead of the Hampshire one. So, if things had worked out differently, we might instead be talking about the cheese and pickle portsmouth we had for lunch.

Cardigan / Rebeca

Cardigan is another good ‘earl’ story. James Brudenell, seventh Earl of Cardigan was hailed as a war hero for his leadership at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854. History later proved that he had actually ordered a cowardly retreat and left some of his men out on a limb, but let’s keep it light. While he was still riding high in public opinion, people took to emulating his sartorial choice of a knitted waistcoat, and the cardigan became a thing.

A cardigan in Spanish, by the way, is una rebeca, named after the wardrobe choice of the main character in the Daphne du Maurier novel Rebecca.


Adolphe Sax was a 19th century horn player. He was more successful as an inventor and improver than as a musician, and in his attempts to develop an instrument that blew like a horn but had the fingering of a woodwind instrument, he came up with the saxophone. As well as inventing many people’s favourite instrument, he is also a good person to have up your sleeve when asked to name a famous Belgian.

Last one: Nachos

Ignacio is a common name in Spain, and the accepted diminutive form is Nacho. In 1943 Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya was working at a posh club in Piedras Negras, Mexico, which is just over the border from Eagle Pass, Texas, where there was a military base at Fort Duncan. A large group of American soldiers’ wives came in to the restaurant, but it was late in the evening and stocks were too low to make a full dinner. So Nacho improvised. He found some tortilla chips, covered them with cheese and jalapeno pepper and baked them till the cheese melted. Needless to say they went down very well and a new ‘delicacy’ was born.

Andrew Wenger, founder and director of SameSky Languages is passionate about words, language, and dare he say it? grammar. If you share this interest, and if you are interested in finding out more about the foreign language courses we have on offer (beginner to advanced level) please take a look around the site, and make contact via this link

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