What Does a ‘Soup Sandwich’ Mean in the Military?

Have you ever heard the term soup sandwich before? Ever wondered where it came from? It came, of course, from the US military.

Aside from being the world’s preeminent fighting force, the military has also furnished us with countless hilarious acronyms, aphorisms and idioms to describe all manner of irritation and chaos.

United States flag on military coat
United States flag on military coat

From the unbelievably vulgar to the poetically subtle, military slang covers it all. But, what does soup sandwich mean, exactly?

Soup sandwich is an idiom that refers to any situation, person, or sequence of events that is an absolute mess, out of control, or otherwise a complete disaster.

We’re not talking about soup and a sandwich here; we’re talking about a soup sandwich, a sandwich made from soup.

If you’ve got a crinkled brow and are scratching your head right now, that’s the correct response. It’s hard to imagine anything more disastrously hard to handle than a sandwich made of soup.

Keep reading and I’ll tell you more about this colorful expression.

But Why the Term Soup Sandwich?

Think about it… Like so many terms of military slang, soup sandwich is deceptively accurate. To eat a sandwich, it has to have structure.

You have all of the ingredients, the meats, the cheeses, the vegetables, maybe some sauce or dressing, and you secure it all between two pieces of bread.

Then, using the bread you can lift the sandwich to your mouth and eat the whole thing in a tidy fashion.

What could be simpler or more elegant? Not much, and that is why sandwiches are so convenient and portable.

Can You Imagine Trying to Eat a Sandwich Made of Soup?

Now, try to imagine yourself being forced to make, much less eat, a sandwich made from soup; the literal soup sandwich we are referring to in our expression.

So you take your bread, and then you take your piping hot bowl of soup, and then you pour the soup over the bread.

The bread dissolves into a nasty slurry, the soup sloshes over the plate and onto the table, the floor and everywhere else, and then you top this whole mess with the other piece of bread.

Now, against all common sense and plausibility, you try to scoop up this mess, with your hands, and eat it as you would any other sandwich.

You’re going to have chunks of wet nastiness absolutely everywhere in no time flat.

That’s a soup sandwich: something that is so messy, so chaotic, so disorganized, so brazenly, flabbergastingly stupid that it can only be described as such.

FUBAR is a Related Acronym

If you’ve never heard of soup sandwich before, that’s okay. I’ll guarantee you’ve heard of another military expression, this one in acronym, that basically means the same thing: FUBAR.

FUBAR stands for “fouled up beyond all recognition,” or depending on who you ask, it stands for “fouled up beyond all repair”.

In any case, the ‘F’ doesn’t really stand for ‘fouled’ if you take my meaning, but instead for that most versatile and vicious of vulgar words.

Anyway, to say that something is FUBAR means it is absolutely unsalvageable. A complete mess. A total disaster. Unrecoverable, unexplainable and absolutely intolerable.

Said another way, you might say that it has turned into a… soup sandwich. In the same way you might say that any soup sandwich is totally FUBAR.

See? Makes sense now! Now that you know how to handle it and what it’s used for, you can use the term soup sandwich anywhere: at your next workplace meeting, when talking to your significant other about relationship stuff or commenting on your kid’s homework project.

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