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The Colorful Language of Roadside Diners

alex atkins bookshelf wordsSeveral decades ago, if you sat down at the counter of a cozy, little roadside diner and ordered breakfast, let’s say you ordered two scrambled eggs on toast, the waiter or waitress would spin around and call out to the cook, “Adam and Eve on a raft and wreck em!” These calls, known as diner or hash house lingo, were a part of the culture of roadside diners and luncheonettes that sprouted across the nation during the 19th and 20th centuries. Not only were the calls enormously entertaining, they were a very efficient way to place food orders. Although the etymology of hash house is difficult to trace, the calls that endured possessed two key qualities: they had to be whimisical, and they had to be distinct so as not to be easily confused with the calls.

As you can imagine, listening to the colorful hash house lingo was one of the appeals of visiting these diners and luncheonettes, known mainly for their menu of delicious comfort food, generous portions, and reasonable prices. Sadly, as large corporations slowly took over the operation of dining establishments, the use of hash house lingo was discouraged, and the practice steadily waned after the 1950s — while food prices steadily increased and food portions decreased. However, thanks to the efforts of Jack Smiley, who published Hash House Lingo in 1941, a dictionary of common diner slang, we can step into the past, and hear the faint echoes of those colorful food orders above the din of the rush hour:

A.C. American cheese sandwich

Bang berries: baked beans

Belch water: carbonated water

Biddies on a raft: poached eggs on toast

Black and white: black coffee with cream on the side

Canary Island: vanilla soda with chocolate ice cream

Chewed fine with a breath: hamburger with onion

Coney Island chicken: frankfurter

Cowboy on a raft: Western sandwich on toast

Dog and maggots: crackers and cheese

Dress a cackle: make an egg sandwich

Eskimo highball: ice water

First lady: spare ribs

Fly cake: raisin cake

Forever and ever: hash browns

Georgia special: Coca-Cola

Glue: tapioca pudding

Gravel: sugar

Grease spot: hamburger

Guess water: soup

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For further reading: Hash House Lingo by Jack Smiley

 

 

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