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It’s incredible to think that a whole system of terminology was once in use on a daily basis by waitstaff and cooks in diners in the 1920s-1970s. Today, many of these terms are unrecognizable to the average ear. However, there are a few that have stuck with us, like “86’d”, “sunnyside up”, and “mayo”. More complicated phrases –some of them quite rude– have fallen completely from use.

Hash slinging lingo can be traced back to the 1800s and is thought to have started as a way to simplify orders and help cooks remember what to cook. Even if some of the terms weren’t all that short, they probably reduced the number of misheard orders in a bustling diner. This might explain why diner lingo is so unusual.

1960s diner in Connecticut
Via/ Flickr

For many folks visiting big cities in the period between the World Wars these funny and sometimes risqué phrases were half the fun of eating at a diner. Here are some of the best of these old fashioned diner phrases that you’d certainly never hear in restaurants today.

Adam & Eve on a raft: two poached eggs on toast

All hot: baked potato

Angels on Horseback: oysters rolled in bacon and served on toast

Axle grease: butter

Baled hay: shredded wheat cereal

Belch water (or balloon water): seltzer or soda water

Birds in a nest: a fried egg on toast with a hole cut out of the center

B.L.T.: bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich

Campers: customers who stay long after their meal is done

Cat’s eyes: tapioca

Sarasota diner, 1958
Via/ StateArchives of Florida

Deadeye: poached egg

Dog and maggot: cracker and cheese (the “dog” is the cracker)

Double black cow: double-thick chocolate shake

Eggs up: two eggs fried on one side, unflipped with unbroken yolks

Firehouse it: add chili sauce to a dish

First lady: spareribs (a reference to Eve)

Fly cake (or roach cake): raisin cake or huckleberry pie

GAC: grilled American cheese sandwich (with bacon is a Jack Benny and with tomato is a GAC Tommy)

George Eddy: customer that refused to tip

Greasy spoon: a diner or cafe

Groundhog: hot dog

Florida steak and eggs restaurant in the 1980s
Via/ State Archives of Florida

Houseboat: banana split

Irish turkey: corned beef and cabbage

Jack Benny: cheese with bacon

Java (or Joe): coffee

Let it walk (or on wheels/give it shoes): an order to go, a take-out order

Make ’em cry: add onions

Mississippi Mud (or yellow paint): mustard

Mystery in the alley: side order of hash

Nervous pudding: Jello

cafe waitress 1948
Via/ Flickr

On the hoof: Any kind of meat cooked rare

On a rail: fast

Paint it red: put ketchup on a sandwich or dish

Pair of drawers: Two cups of coffee

Pin a rose on it: add onion to a dish

Rabbit food: lettuce

Raft (or shingle): toast or bun

Sand (or gravel): Sugar

Sea dust: salt

Shingle with a shimmy and a shake: Buttered toast with jam

1930s diner in pink and chrome
Via/ Flickr

Short stack: order of pancakes

Wax: American cheese

Whistle berries: beans

Whiskey: rye bread

Wreck ’em (or wrecked): Scrambled eggs

Zeppelin: sausage

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