The Lost Language of Diners.


It's like Latin, A dying language.

Why did diner slang disappear?

There are several reasons, among them the disappearance of the brassy, sassy waitresses and countermen who made the colorful jargon part of their working routine during its heyday in the '30s, '40s and early '50s.
At several diners around New York, managers said, employees don't use slang, partly because there is no one to teach it, but also because orders to cooks are increasingly complex and thus require more exact terminology.

And some slang has gone mainstream — among it, O.J., BLT, stack, mayo, over easy, hash browns, sunnyside up and blue plate special.

Primarily the loss of these terms is due to the prevalence of fast food chains and the use of computerized order systems has eliminated the need for wait staff to "call" orders. However, the use of restaurant diner lingo is still present in small towns as well as retro-style restaurants and is a colorful part of Americana

The following list is extensive and by no means complete.
Here is your diner slang primer:

A blonde with sand: coffee with cream and sugar
A Murphy: a potato, so called because of their association with the Irish diet of potatoes, Murphy being a common Irish name
A spot with a twist: a cup of tea with lemon
A stack of Vermont: pancakes with maple syrup
An M.D.: a Dr Pepper
Adam & Eve on a raft: two poached eggs on toast
Adam's Ale: water
All hot: baked potato
Angel: sandwich man
Angels on horseback: oysters rolled in bacon on toast
B and B: bread and butter
B.L.T.: bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich
Bailed hay: Hot Pockets
Balloon juice/Belch water/Alka Seltzer: seltzer, soda water
Beef Stick: bone
Billiard: buttermilk
Birdseed: breakfast
Black and white: chocolate soda with vanilla ice cream
Bloodhounds in the Hay: hot dogs and sauerkraut
Bloody: very rare
Blowout patches: pancakes
Blue-plate special: a dish of meat, potato, and vegetable served on a plate (usually blue) sectioned in three parts. This can also refer to the daily special.
Boiled leaves: Tea
Bow-wow/Bun pup/Tube steak/Groundhog: a hot dog
Bowl of red: a bowl of chili con carne, so called for its deep red color.
Break it and shake it: add egg to a drink
Breath: onion
Bridge/Bridge party: four of anything (from bridge the card game)
Bronx vanilla/Halitosis/Italian Garlic: garlic
Bubble Dancer: dishwasher
Bucket of cold mud: a bowl of chocolate ice cream
Bullets/Whistleberries/Saturday night: Baked beans, so called because of the supposed flatulence they cause.
Burn one: put a hamburger on the grill
Burn one, take it through the garden and pin a rose on it: hamburger with lettuce, tomato and onion
Burn the British: toasted English muffin
C.J. Boston: cream cheese and jelly
Cackle fruit/Cackleberries: eggs
Canned cow: evaporated milk
Chewed with Fine Breath: hamburger with onions
China: rice pudding
Chopper: a table knife
Coney Island chicken/Coney Island: a hot dog, so called because hot dogs were popularly associated with the stands on Coney Island.
Cow feed: a salad
Cow paste/Skid Grease/Axle grease: butter
Cowboy Western: a western omelette or sandwich
Creep: Draft beer
Crowd: three of anything (possibly from the saying "Two's company, three's a crowd")
Customer will take a chance: hash
Deadeye: poached egg
Drag one through Georgia: cola with chocolate syrup, probably a reference to the fact that the headquarters of Coca-Cola is in Atlanta, Georgia, and dragging anything is likely to get it muddy, i.e., darker, which would be the same result as adding chocolate syrup. Carbonated drinks such as Coca-Cola were originally served by pouring concentrated syrup into a glass and adding soda water, so they could be made to whatever strength the customer preferred.
Draw one/A cup of mud: a cup of coffee
Draw one in the Dark/Flowing Mississippi: a black coffee
Dog and maggot: cracker and cheese
Dog biscuit: a cracker
Dough well done with cow to cover: buttered toast
Dusty Miller: chocolate pudding, sprinkled with powdered malt

Eighty-six: "Do not sell to that customer" or "The kitchen is out of the item ordered". "To remove an item from an order or from the menu". Article 86 of the New York State Liquor Code defines the circumstances in which a bar patron should be refused alcohol or '86ed'. The Soup Kitchen Theory: during the depression of the 1930s, soup kitchens would often make just enough soup for 85 people. If you were next in line after number 85, you were '86ed'. The Eight Feet By Six Feet Theory: A coffin is usually eight feet long and is buried six feet under. Once in your coffin you've been 'eight by sixed', which shortens to '86ed'. Chumley's Theory: Many years ago, Chumley's Restaurant, at 86 Bedford Street in Greenwich Village, New York City, had a custom of throwing rowdy customers out the back door. During Prohibition, Chumley's was a speakeasy owned by Leland Stanford Chumley. When the cops were on the way, someone would shout "86," and they would all exit through the back door.

Eve with a lid on: apple pie, referring to the biblical Eve's tempting of Adam with an apple. The "lid" is the pie crust
Eve with a moldy lid: apple pie with a slice of cheese
Fifty-five: a glass of root beer
First lady: spareribs, a pun on Eve's being made from Adam's spare rib.
Fish eyes or Cat's eyes: tapioca pudding
Flop two: two fried eggs, over easy
Flop two, over easy: fried egg flipped over (carefully!) and the yolk is still very runny. That means the other side is cooked for a few seconds
Flop two, over medium: turning over a fried egg and the yolk begins to solidify
Flop two, over hard: fried egg, flipped and cooked until the yolk is solid all the way through
Fly cake or Roach cake: raisin cake or huckleberry pie
Foreign Entanglements: plate of spaghetti
Frenchman's delight: pea soup
Frog sticks: french fries
Fry two/Let the sun shine: 2 fried eggs with unbroken yolks
GAC: Grilled American cheese sandwich. This was also called "jack" (from the pronunciation of "GAC")
Gallery: booth
Gravel train: sugar bowl
Graveyard stew: milk toast; buttered toast, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, and dropped into a bowl of warm milk
Hail: ice
Hemorrhage: tomato ketchup
High and dry: a plain sandwich without butter, mayonnaise, or lettuce
Hockey puck: a hamburger, well done
Hold the hail: no ice
Honeymoon salad: lettuce alone
Hot top: hot chocolate
Hounds on an Island: franks and beans
Houseboat/Dagwood Special: a banana split made with ice cream and sliced bananas
Hug one/Squeeze one: a glass of orange juice
Ice the rice: rice pudding with ice cream
In the alley: served as a side dish
In the weeds: a waitress/cook that can't keep up with the tables. Refers back to chefs' military roots, where being in the weeds would cause your army to be slaughtered.
Irish turkey: corned beef and cabbage
Jack Benny: cheese with bacon (named after the famed comedian)
Java/Joe: Coffee
Keep off the grass: no lettuce
Ladybug: fountain man
Let it walk/Go for a walk/On wheels/Give it shoes: an order to go, a takeaway order. It’s to go.
Life preservers/Sinkers: doughnuts
Lighthouse: bottle of ketchup
Looseners: prunes, so called because of their supposed laxative effect.
Love Apples: tomatoes
Lumber: A toothpick
Machine Oil: syrup
Magoo: custard pie
Maiden's delight: cherries, so called because "cherry" is a slang term for the maidenhead, hymen
Marry: bring items together for cleaning up, i.e. marry the salt and pepper.
Mayo: mayonnaise
Mike and Ike/The twins: salt and pepper shakers
Million on a platter: a plate of baked beans
Mississippi Mud/Yellow paint: mustard
Moo juice/Cow juice/Baby juice/Sweet Alice: milk
Mully/Bossy in a bowl: beef stew, so called because "Bossy" was a common name for a cow.
Mystery in the alley: a side order of hash
Nervous pudding: gelatin
No cow: without milk
Noah's boy: a slice of ham (Ham was Noah's second son)
Noah’ boy on bread: a ham sandwich
On the hoof: any kind of meat, cooked rare
One from the Alps: a Swiss cheese sandwich
One on the City: a glass of water
Paint a bow-wow red: a hot dog with ketchup
Paint it red: put ketchup on an item
Pair of drawers: two cups of coffee
Pigs in a blanket: a ham (sometimes a sausage) sandwich
Pin a rose on it: add onion to an order
Pittsburgh: something burning, toasted or charred, so called because of the smokestacks once evident in Pittsburgh, a coal-producing and steel-mill city. In meat cookery, this refers to a piece of meat charred on the outside while still red within.
Pope Benedict: an eggs benedict, but fit for a pope
Put a hat on it: add ice cream
Put out the lights and cry: an order of liver and onions, "Lights" is a term sometimes used for the edible, mainly internal organs of an animal
Quail: Hungarian goulash
Rabbit food: lettuce
Radar Range: microwave oven, from the Amana Radarange, whose parent company, Raytheon, was the first to manufacture and market the microwave oven.
Radio: tuna salad sandwich on toast (a pun on "tuna down," which sounds like "turn it down," as one would the radio knob)
Radio Sandwich: tuna fish sandwich
Raft: toast
Sea dust: Salt
Shake one in the hay: strawberry milkshake
Shingle with a shimmy and a shake: buttered toast with jam or jelly, hence the reference to 'shake'.
Shit on a shingle/S.O.S.: minced dried beef with gravy on toast, mostly because it was a reviled standard fare in army messes
Shivering Hay: strawberry gelatin
Shoot from the south/Atlanta special: Coca Cola, probably a reference to the fact that the headquarters of Coca-Cola is in Atlanta, Georgia.
Sleigh Ride Special: vanilla pudding
Smear: margarine
Soup jockey: waitress
Splash of red noise: a bowl of tomato soup
Stack/Short stack: order of pancakes
Sun kiss/Oh jay (O.J.): orange juice
Sunny-side up: the eggs are fried without flipping them, so the yolk looks just like a sun on white background
Sweep the kitchen/Sweepings/Clean up the kitchen: a plate of hash
Throw it in the mud: add chocolate syrup
Two cows, make them cry: Two hamburgers with onions
Vermont: maple syrup, because maple syrup comes primarily from the state of Vermont in the U.S.
Walk a cow through the garden: Hamburger with lettuce, tomato and onion
Warts: Olives
Wax: American cheese
Well-dressed diner: codfish
Whiskey: rye bread, as in rye whiskey
Whiskey down: rye toast, the 'down' part probably comes from the action of pushing down the handle on the toaster
White Cow: vanilla milkshake
Windmill Cocktail/Adam's ale/City juice/Dog soup: glass of water
Wreath: cabbage
Wreck ‘em: scrambled eggs
Yum Yum/Sand: sugar
Zeppelin: sausage
Zeppelins in a fog: sausages and mashed potatoes


They Always Come Back:
It's up to you to keep these terms alive. Use them well.

12 comments:

Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

A friend of mine that used to work at such a diner shared with me my favorite slang for "A B.L.T. to go": "I need a B.L.T. a travlin'"

WAT said...

I got one to contribute! I first learned it in Spanish as "vaca negra" which most now in the U.S. call an ice cream float, but the slang term used to be a BLACK COW as well.

Jim said...

These are great! I remember some from living in small towns in the south.

"Bossy in a bowl, pin a rose on it!"

Bill German said...

i'll take a pigs in a blanket with a kevin bacon. over easy

Salty Miss Jill said...

Wow-this is the most comprehensive list of diner slang I've ever seen. Color me impressed.

My favorite: soup jockey=waitress

I'd be happy to share updated restaurant slang with you, having been in the biz for about half my miserable existance.

Silent 3 said...

thanks for this list!

you do have the slang for tapioca pudding as "fish eyes"; I've heard it called "fish eyes in glue"

yum...

silent 3 said...

Oh there's one other one I love and i don't think it's on your list:

"drag it through the garden" =>

if you order something like a hamburger with all the veggie toppings (lettuce, tomato, onion, etc) you drag it through the garden

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Anonymous said...

That photo you have is all wrong. Who ate broccoli? It was peas, peas and carrots, mixed veggies. That does not look like creamed chipped beef on toast. What is it actually? The mashed potatoes were more free-form and contained no garlic.

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