LUNCH COUNTER LINGO

The term “lunch counter” was first recorded in 1869 in the United States, and became known as a luncheonette in the 1930s. Many terms were launched from local and ethnic roots that might be considered politically incorrect these days, and others were linked to their digestion reaction. Some waiter/cook shorthand has become a standard part of our language, such as mayo, BLT, and stack (of pancakes). You may still hear some of the old slang terms in quaint Luncheonettes and Soda Shoppe’s in smaller old cities in the United States, as well as in some newer retro diners where nostalgia is the gimmick of choice.

Deciphering the lingo

You might want to learn a little Diner Lingo in case you have the occasion to check out one of the old mom and pop hash houses or newer retro diners, so you can have a little fun with your waiter/waitress. Some of these definitions are sure to bring a smile, if not stir some memories.

Diner Lingo Glossary

Adam and Eve on a raft: Two poached eggs on toast.
Adam’s ale: Plain water.
Axle grease or Skid grease: Butter.
Baby, moo juice, Sweet Alice or cow juice: Milk.
Belch water: Seltzer or soda water.
Birdseed: Cereal.
Blue-plate special: A dish of meat, potato, and vegetable served on a plate (usually blue) sectioned in three parts.
Bossy in a bowl: Beef stew, so called because “Bossy” was a common name for a cow.
Bowl of red: A bowl of chili con carne, so called for its deep red color.
Bowwow: A hot dog.
Breath: An onion.
Bridge or bridge party: Four of anything, so called from the card-game hand of bridge.
Bullets: Also called “whistle berries” or “Saturday nights.” Baked beans, so called because of the supposed flatulence they cause.
Bun pup: A hot dog.
Burn one: Put a hamburger on the grill.
Burn the British: A toasted English muffin.
Cat s eyes or fish eyes: Tapioca.
China: Rice pudding.
Chopper: A table knife.
City juice: Water.
Clean up the kitchen: Hash or hamburger.
Coney Island chicken or Coney Island: A hot dog, so called because hot dogs were popularly associated with the Coney Island stands at which they were sold
Cowboy: A western omelet or sandwich
Cow feed: A salad
Creep: Draft beer
Crowd: Three of anything (possibly from the old saying, “Two’s company, three’s a crowd”).
Deadeye: Poached egg
Dog and maggot: Cracker and cheese.
Dog biscuit: Cracker
Dog’s body: A pudding of pea soup and flour or hardtack.
Dough well done with cow to cover: Buttered toast.
Draw one: Coffee
Eighty-six: “Do not sell to that customer” or “The kitchen is out of the item ordered.” Perhaps from the practice at Chumley’s Restaurant in New York City of throwing rowdy customers out the back door, which is No. 86 Bedford Street. The term certainly predates its first appearance in print circa 1967.
Eve with a lid on: Apple pie, referring to the biblical Eve’s tempting apple and to the crust that covers it.
Fifty-five: A glass of root beer.
First lady: Spareribs, a pun on Eve’s being made from Adam’s spare rib.
Fly cake or roach cake: A raisin cake or huckleberry pie.
Frenchman’s delight: Pea soup.
GAC: Grilled American cheese sandwich. This was also called “jack” (from the pronunciation of “GAC”); a “Jack Benny” (after a radio comedian) was cheese with bacon.
Gentleman will take a chance: Hash.
Go for a walk: An order to be packed and taken out.
Gravel train: Sugar bowl.
Graveyard stew: Milk toast.
Groundhog: Hot dog.
Hemorrhage: Ketchup.
High and dry: A plain sandwich without butter, mayonnaise, or lettuce.
Houseboat: A banana split made with ice cream and sliced bananas.
In the alley: Serve as a side dish.
Irish turkey: Corned beef and cabbage.
Java or Joe: Coffee.
Looseners: Prunes, so called because of their supposed laxative effect.
Lumber: A toothpick.
Maiden’s delight: Cherries, so called because “cherry” is a slang term for the maidenhead.
Mike and Ike or the twins: Salt and pepper shakers.
Mud or Omurk: Black coffee.
Murphy: Potatoes, so called because of their association with the Irish diet of potatoes, Murphy being a common Irish name.
Noah’s boy: A slice of ham, because Ham was Noah’s second son.
No cow: Without milk.
On the hoof: Meat done rare.
On wheels: An order to be packed and taken out.
Pair of drawers: Two cups of coffee.
Pittsburgh: Toast or something burning, so called because of the smokestacks 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.
Put out the lights and cry: Liver and onions.
Radio: A tuna-fish-salad sandwich on toast punning on “tuna down,” which sounds like “turn it down,” as one would the radio knob.
Sand: Sugar.
Sea dust: Salt.
Sinkers and suds: Doughnuts and coffee.
Vermont: Maple syrup, because maple syrup comes primarily from Vermont.
Warts: Olives.
Wreath: Cabbage.
Wreck ’em: Scramble the eggs.
Yum-yum: Sugar.
Zeppelins in a fog: Sausages in mashed potatoes.
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About stonekingseminars

Poet, screenwriter, producer, mentor
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