Does there in fact exist a non-sandwich space within the definition of a sandwich, wherein a hamburger, though certainly food between breads, is not actually known to any real persons as a sandwich.

Please note that I have already posted it on cooking.stackexchange.com and caused some upset. There I am looking for a culinary answer.

Here, the question is about the logical relationship between these two definitions, in English but perhaps also in other languages.

  • To find out different usages of the words in different cultures, english.stackexchange.com would be the right place. E.g. possibly it varies between the UK, Australia and the US.
    – tkruse
    Commented Dec 21, 2021 at 0:24
  • "... returns with hamburgers, how do you respond?" What, no cheese?
    – user4894
    Commented Dec 21, 2021 at 1:21
  • If your friend says, "Hey, I'm gonna get us some sandwiches," and returns with hamburgers, how do you respond? If you asked your friend about their favorite sandwich and they said, "ground beef patty medium rare, cheddar cheese, onions, lettuce, tomato, mustard, and mayonnaise," how do you respond? Commented Dec 21, 2021 at 5:10
  • Unless you believe that "sandwich" is a natural kind, it doesn't really make sense to ask what the "true" properties of a sandwich are apart from existing definitions; and I think existing definitions are just too vague to give a clear-cut answer to the question "is a hamburger a sandwich?"
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Dec 21, 2021 at 5:55

3 Answers 3


The relationship of concepts is not necessarily objectifiable, meaning two people may reasonably agree to disagree on that for any pair of words.

There are intensional and extensional definition of words. Intensional means going by an explicit definition like "a sandwich is a dish involving a piece of meat and pieces of bread." Extensional definition means just looking at how a word is used on diverse actual objects.

Either way, the relationship between such words can be thought about using set theory visualized by Venn diagrams, to show that two concepts might be overlapping or not. A result could be "every burger is a sandwich, but not every sandwich is a burger", or similar.

Both types of definition approaches are subject to differences between countries, cultures, in-groups, and may change over time.

If going by an explicit definition, then if one definition can include the other, logic dictates the relationship.

However not every word is well defined, and 2 persons may well disagree on definitions, or consider definitions not useful for a given case.

Another approach is too compare usage of the words, instead of definitions. Like showing to people diverse photos of meat within bread, and asking them whether they would call the thing depicted in the photo a sandwich or a burger. If most people agree on this, that tells us something about those two words within that group of people. Which can be a valid answer. Ask another group, or ask 10 years later, and you may get another answer.


i am no philosopher but what i can tell you, is that the exact word is not important, the thing that makes language useful among individuals is the ability to share information.

you could show your friend a digital image of the exact object that you intend to purchase and there would be no misunderstanding, because the image is encoded in a language (binary) that is more precise and minimizes data loss (compared to spoken language), and since where are such visual dependent beings, we have evolved to absorb this kind of data quickly and precisely.

the word sandwich may also be defined in physics in terms of geometric size, proportion and mass, or in chemistry in terms of ingredients and their composition, etc. that would reduce the chance of misunderstandings by using a less abstract language.

spoken language on the other hand makes room for ambiguity because of it's high levels of abstraction, a written symbol or a set of particular sound waves carries more information the more abstract it is (it also tends to require more previous knowledge).

so, the point in using such an abstract construct as the word sandwich is to save time, knowing that whoever you say this word, will know what you are referring to, and you won't have to show a picture of a sandwich to everyone, neither will you have to define a sandwich mathematically whenever you get hungry

so this begs the question, who actually defines the common abstract concept behind the word sandwich? and the answer is, we all do. when we use a word, we share information with the listener about the concept we are trying to communicate, i'll show you an example:

imagine there are two separate towns that eat different kinds of sandwiches, they have the same ingredients but different size. over time commercial trade makes the people of these towns interact more and more, and between those interactions they begin to share culinary knowledge and eventually, because of the thriving economy the residents start creating restaurants in the opposite town, so suddenly the word sandwich doesn't always mean what they have in mind, they may get a bigger or a smaller portion than they expect, and over time the meaning of the word expands to encompass both kinds of sandwich, because people realize that the word they use to denominate a meal in their native town may not mean the same to people abroad.

how this process begins and how it evolves over time is well beyond the scope of this question, and i believe we would have to do a more serious analysis to gain better insight on how words and their meanings evolve over time, given their frequency, between regions how they change when they are adopted by another culture and so on.

the previous example also asumes that the two hypothetical towns have a word for sandwich that share a common precursor, this may not be the case, for example, if a resident of a given country goes into another and realizes their concept of money is not the same the implications are less obvious but not less significant. the word is the same, but the inclination to spend it may be different, the importance that it plays in their life, is it bad to posses it? why?

i'd love to write about this all day but i'm getting hungry, i may as well go get a sandwich


We might appeal to the ultimate source of all epistemological wisdom, Wikipedia.

A hamburger (or burger for short) is a food, typically considered a sandwich ...


On the other hand, there is a thing called a hamburger sandwich, which is a hamburger served between two slices of bread, as opposed to a hamburger roll.

Here is a learned treatise on the subject. One distinction is that a sandwich typically involves a filling that requires little or no preparation, as in for example lunch meats. But then again there are meat loaf sandwiches, and meat loaf takes preparation.


Truly this is a gastronomic condundrum to vex even the wisest sage.

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