Useless as a soup sandwich

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jin defang asked: 

New expression, or at least new to me: soup sandwich.  All that meant to me was an option at Panera, which didn’t fit the context. So I asked the last person who used it, Fred, and this is his reply.  (I also didn’t know what FUBAR meant but that was on google).

Fred's reply to jin defang:

I think it’s a Navy saying, at least that’s where I first heard and used it.

It’s used kind of like FUBAR only it’s an intentional mixed metaphor or non sequitur…like the saying “it ain’t rocket-surgery”.  

Saying it’s a ‘soup-sandwich’ is essentially saying it’s FUBARed.

Basic entry in Wiktionary:


An expression of military origin, calling to mind a picture of soup being poured over bread.


soup sandwich (plural soup sandwiches)

    1. (US, idiomatic) Someone or something that is not as it should be; something disorganized or unfinished.

That's as messed up as a soup sandwich. That guy is a big soup sandwich.

Lots of entries on Urban Dictionary, going back to 2003.

Very thorough, comprehensive blog post by Barry Popik (10/7/09), complete with numerous citations; here's the first paragraph:

The term “as sloppy as a soup sandwich” was printed in the Daily News (New York, NY) on January 28, 1977. “Sloppy as a soup sandwich” was entered in the “Canonical List of Fulldeckisms” in the newsgroup rec.humor on March 2, 1993. A sandwich made out of soup would be disorganized, unfinished, sloppy.

jin's question was especially pertinent and poignant for me since a bowl of soup and a Philly Muffin (world's best bread, in my opinion, made by Merzbacher's of Germantown) is one of my two daily meals.


Selected readings


  1. Timothy Rowe said,

    November 4, 2022 @ 7:29 am

    I don't think it's in any sense a mixed metaphor. It's just something that would make a mess if you tried to make it.

  2. Philip Taylor said,

    November 4, 2022 @ 7:29 am

    Not being familiar with Merzbacher's, but with very fond memories of the black rye bread baked and sold by Grodzinski of Swiss Cottage and Golders Green, I looked at the Merzbacher's web site and was immediately struck by

    Open to the public Sunday to Friday, 4-8 pm (closed Saturday)

    4am–8pm, or 4pm–8pm ?

  3. Victor Mair said,

    November 4, 2022 @ 7:42 am

    @Philip Taylor

    I love their breads (not just the Philly Muffin) so much that I drove up there in my Tacoma pickup truck with my sister in an out-of-the-way part of Philadelphia during the early afternoon (not Saturday) when I thought surely they would be open. I wanted to get some warm bread fresh out of the oven. I also wished to pay homage to the master bakers.

    I was sorely disappointed.

    They were closed.

    And, by "open to the public" means they'll sell you something through a hole in the wall near the front door. They don't have a showroom or a shop. It's just a medium-sized bakery in a nondescript building, with nothing else of significance all around it — except some houses of lower middle class people. But they do mean business when it comes to making fantastic bread.

    I looked longingly and admiringly through the few windows at the racks, vats, and other equipment.

  4. Tim Frost said,

    November 4, 2022 @ 7:44 am

    In England, the equivalent has long been 'as useful as a chocolate teapot'. But I recently found out that there may be exceptions: see

  5. jin defang said,

    November 4, 2022 @ 7:59 am

    Jin suggests that you try baking the bread yourself. The yeast does the work and the kneading part is great for working out aggression. Just be careful to keep it at the right temperature during the rising phase.

  6. Adam Robbins Field said,

    November 4, 2022 @ 8:03 am

    Exceptions to the "soup sandwich", too – granted, it isn't *just* soup, but Chowder Barge in Wilmington is famous for its chowder-drenched cheeseburger. :D

  7. Uly said,

    November 4, 2022 @ 9:06 am

    You know, this reminds me of when I was a klutzy teen. I was a really clumsy teen, having once been a really clumsy child, but I still needed to eat.

    I often made myself grilled cheeses. I liked grilled cheese! And when the grilled cheese sandwich fell apart because I was unable to flip it without it falling apart, due to the aforementioned lack of gross motor control, I called it "grilled cheese soup".

    It wasn't actually souplike, that was just the term that sprang to mind of having bread and cheese jumbled up instead of in a nice, neat sandwich.

  8. Bob S. said,

    November 4, 2022 @ 9:25 am

    A friend who had been in the navy used it frequently in the early '80s in the central New England area. Its colloquial meaning was immediately obvious to me.

  9. Thomas Lee Hutcheson said,

    November 4, 2022 @ 10:29 am

    Like "dumpster fire" but wetter. :)

  10. Wally said,

    November 4, 2022 @ 10:33 am

    Fubar is commonly used in the computer programming world, particularly in Lisp programming. It is typically respelled as foobar giving rise to often used variable etc names foo and bar.

  11. Terry K. said,

    November 4, 2022 @ 10:45 am

    I'm curious about his calling a soup sandwich "an option at Panera". I'm wondering if he's a 2nd language speaker and something in his native language makes calling something at Panera a soup sandwich make sense. When I first read it, I was thinking he had in mind "soup and sandwich", but now I think maybe he meant a bread bowl? Which is not a sandwich, though does combine soup and bread. Still not sure which he had in mind, and still curious why "soup sandwich" brings to mind one of those for him.

  12. Robert Carroll said,

    November 4, 2022 @ 12:26 pm

    "Soup sandwich" to me has the exact same meaning as "lead balloon."

  13. Terry K. said,

    November 4, 2022 @ 1:23 pm

    Apologies. I just realized I made an assumption of jin defang's gender with no basis, and further that, even aside from that, I should have used jin defang's name in my comment to make clear who I was referring to.

  14. wanda said,

    November 4, 2022 @ 1:35 pm

    @Terry K.: I think Panera is missing the word "combo" after "soup sandwich." They have a "you pick two" meal option where you can get a cup of soup with half a sandwich.

  15. Terry K said,

    November 4, 2022 @ 1:48 pm

    Yeah, I know about the pick two (have ordered them many times), and I don't think Panera is missing anything. My question is about why jin defang hears "soup sandwich" and thinks of something at Panera, when Panera has Pick Two that can be a soup and a sandwich, and soup in a bread bowl, but nothing that would be called or described as a soup sandwich (in any variety of English I'm familiar with, me being a American who speaks standard American English. I'm curious about jin defang's language background, how it contributes to that.

  16. Y said,

    November 4, 2022 @ 3:49 pm

    "Soup Sandwiches" often appear as separate words on deli signs, imitating a compound. Likewise "Beer Sandwiches".

  17. Denis Christopher Mair said,

    November 4, 2022 @ 4:42 pm

    Terry K. is right.
    I have also had soup in a bread bowl at Panera. I forget what it's called on the menu.
    People at Panera who order that item often just eat the soup and take a few bites out of the bread bowl. Seems like a waste.
    The bread is a small loaf hollowed out on top.

  18. Seth said,

    November 4, 2022 @ 4:47 pm

    There's a Twilight Zone (1980's version) episode "Crazy As A Soup Sandwich", which might have popularized the expression somewhat, beyond a Navy context.

  19. Philip Taylor said,

    November 5, 2022 @ 3:36 am

    Every time I return to this thread I am puzzled by its title. For me, "Useless as a soup sandwich" is a descriptor for something that is totally unsuitable for use as a soup sandwich. The intended meaning ("of as little use as soup sandwich") would require a preceding "as", as in "As useless as a soup sandwich".

  20. Terry K. said,

    November 5, 2022 @ 10:29 am

    Interesting to read your take on the post title, Philip. I took it as "[As] Useless as a soup sandwich" and it didn't even even occur to me it could be read as meaning "unsuitable for use as a soup sandwich", though indeed it can.

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