Sandwiches, Heaps & Wolves

I warn you in advance that this is going to be a weird post.

First question: What is a sandwich?

This has prompted a fair amount of debate! You might even find yourself, upon reviewing this chart, getting irrationally mad at up to 8 hypothetical groups of people. I’m going to give my answer, but I’m going to give it closer to the end of this post. Hold on to that thought for now!

Next, we have another question that raises some fair amount of debate: How much of something is a “heap” of that thing?

The tricky part of this thought follows basically this idea: If you have 10,000 pennies in one spot, that’s probably a “heap” of pennies (assuming they’re all just piled up and not organized in some other way). If you remove one penny, do you still have a heap? Sure. So that means that “A Heap of Pennies – One Penny = A Heap of Pennies,” which means literally one penny is a heap. Heck, it means zero pennies is a heap!

My solution to that fun little puzzle is that “heaps” aren’t things. They’re descriptors, and descriptors don’t have concrete definitions, even as nouns. They’re just words we use to transmit ideas but that don’t have Platonic Ideals.

A wolf exists. There is a specific kind of thing that is a wolf. We’ve categorized it pretty deeply; there’s a specific type of DNA that tells cells to grow into Canis lupus, and the resulting creature is distinct from other types of creatures. If I ask you “what is a wolf,” you can give me a pretty concrete answer that doesn’t depend on a lot of outside factors.

A “pet,” on the other hand, isn’t a distinct thing. It’s a descriptor. There’s no single definition of a “pet” that doesn’t rely on a relationship to an outside entity. Even though it’s a noun, it describes a thing more than defining it.

I think “heap” is like “pet,” not like “wolf.” It’s a word we use to describe something, and it’s relationship to other things. A heap describes a penny’s relationship to other pennies (nearby in large amounts!) and also to us (in a pile that’s too inconvenient to count!). There’s a Platonic ideal of a penny or a wolf, but not of a heap or a pet.

Or a Sandwich.

See, I told you I’d give my answer. On that chart above, I’m a “structure purist, ingredient rebel.” I think “sandwich” is a descriptor, and what it’s describing is how food is arranged, relative to other food and relative to the person eating it. I don’t think it matters what the sandwich is made of, in the same sense that a pet can be anything and you can have a heap of anything. But also, I wouldn’t call a flock of birds a “heap” just because there are many of them together, nor would I call a television a “pet” just because it stays in your house and makes noise. For descriptor nouns, form is important but substance isn’t. Therefore, a sandwich can be any food at all, but it must follow the form of something “sandwiched” between something else.

Was there a point to this post? Yes – I’ve now had this discussion at least 3 times, and I never want to have it again. So now I can just link this blog post. Also, I write whatever I want, that’s why!

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