Myth Trivia: Touring the wonderful world of diner lingo

Classic diners are rapidly disappearing from the American landscape. Along with their disappearance goes a unique language.

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The venerable classic 29 Diner is still open for business on Lee Highway just West of Route 123 in Fairfax, Virginia, just a few miles outside Washington, D.C. (Image via Wikipedia entry on the diner, CC 3.0 license)

CHARLOTTE, N.C., April 12, 2017 – Back in the early part of the 20th century, a popular phenomenon arose in the United States—one that is now a rapidly disappearing part of Americana: The classic roadside diner. Diners were usually prefabricated “fast food” restaurants featuring counter bar stools and a few booths lined up in front.

Many diners were 24/7 businesses that often appealed to truck drivers, late night travelers, long distance drivers or even railway personnel.

Though their heyday was less than a hundred years, the heritage of these marvelous dining emporiums played a nostalgic role in the culture of our country, not the least of which was a unique diner jargon that would be shouted across the room from a waitress and the short order cook alike.


In tribute to this dining culture of yesteryear, our trivia entry today lists of some of the best diner lingo from the distant and not-so-distant past. See if you can figure some of terms out before learning their real meaning.

Adam’s ale/city juice/dog soup – Water
All hot – A baked potato
Axle grease/skid grease/cow paste – Butter
Baby juice/moo juice/cow juice/sweet Alice – Milk
Bossy in a bowl – Beef stew
Bow-wow/bun pup/tube steak/groundhog/Coney Island/Coney Island Bloodhound – Hot dog
Bronx vanilla/Italian perfume – Garlic
Bullets – Baked beans
Burn one – Put a hamburger on the grill
Burn the British – A toasted English muffin
Cackle fruit/Cackleberries/Hen Fruit – Eggs
Chicks on a raft – Eggs on toast
Clean up the kitchen/sweep the floor – Hash
Dough well done with cow to cover – Buttered toast
Fish eyes/cat’s eyes – Tapioca pudding
Flop two – Two fried eggs over easy
GAC – A grilled American cheese sandwich (Also called a “jack” or a “Jack Benny” if there’s bacon on it.)
Gravel train – Sugar bowl
Heart Attack on Rack – Biscuits and gravy
Hemorrhage – Ketchup
Hockey puck – A hamburger, well done
Houseboat – A banana split
In the alley – Served as a side dish
Maiden’s delight – Cherries (“cherry” is slang for the hymen)
Mississippi Mud/Yellow paint – mustard
Mystery in the alley – A side order of hash
Noah’s boy with Murphy carrying a wreath – ham and potatoes with cabbage
On the hoof – Any kind of meat cooked rare
Pair of drawers – Two cups of coffee
Pittsburgh – Toast or burn something so it’s charred on the outside but still red on the inside (probably a reference to Pittsburgh’s blast furnaces or coal beds)
Put out the lights and cry – Liver and onions
Sand/gravel/yum-yum – Sugar
Sea dust – salt
Shingle with a shimmy and a shake – Buttered toast with jam
Wax – American cheese
Whiskey – rye bread
Whiskey down – rye toast
86 – Remove an item from an order or from the menu; throw an item away. (Several origins for this one, including: a reference to coffins, usually eight feet long and buried six feet under; from Chumley’s Bar and Restaurant in New York City, where trash was thrown out the back door at 86 Bedford Street; from Delmonico’s Restaurant in NYC, where item #86 on their menu, the house steak, was often unavailable due to its popularity.)

And now for the Top Ten:

Adam and Eve on a raft/log – Two poached eggs on toast
Burn one, take it through the garden and pin a rose on it – A hamburger with lettuce, tomato and onion
First lady – Spareribs (probably a pun on Eve being made from Adam’s rib)
Hounds on an Island – Franks and beans
Wreck ’em – Scrambled eggs
Noah’s boy – A slice of ham (Ham was one of the Biblical Noah’s sons)
Breath – Onion
Belch water – Seltzer or soda water
Whistleberries – Baked Beans
Nervous pudding – Jelly/Jello

And that’s our trivia for today. Now I’m leaving Dolly Parton high and dry, which means “I’ll have two chicken breasts (Dolly Parton) with no condiments (no salt and pepper).”

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Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)

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