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Understanding Diner Lingo: 55 Phrases to Get You Started

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Photo: avlxyz on Flickr

The origins of most diner phrases are shrouded in mystery or lost to history, and different regions and restaurants use different terminology for the same items, but this list should give you an idea of what's going on when you hear your waitress screaming about wrecking two chicks on a raft.

1. Adam and Eve on a raft/log - Two poached eggs on toast

2. Adam's ale/city juice/dog soup - Water

3. All hot - A baked potato

4. Axle grease/skid grease/cow paste - Butter

5. Baby juice/moo juice/cow juice/Sweet Alice - Milk

6. Belch water/balloon water - Seltzer or soda water

7. Blonde with Sand - Coffee with cream and sugar.

8. Bloodhound in the Hay - A hot dog with sauerkraut

9. Bossy in a bowl - Beef stew

10. Bow-wow/bun pup/tube steak/groundhog/Coney Island/Coney Island chicken/Coney Island bloodhound - A hot dog

11. Breath - Onion

12. Bronx vanilla/halitosis/Italian perfume - Garlic

13. Bullets/whistleberries - Baked beans

14. Burn one - Put a hamburger on the grill

15. Burn one, take it through the garden and pin a rose on it - A hamburger with lettuce, tomato and onion

16. Burn the British - A toasted English muffin

17. Cackle fruit/Cackleberries/Hen Fruit - Eggs

18. Chicks on a raft - Eggs on toast

19. Customer will take a chance/clean up the kitchen/sweep the floor - Hash

20. Dough well done with cow to cover - Buttered toast

21. Drag one through Georgia - Coca-Cola with chocolate syrup

22. Draw one/a cup of mud - A cup of coffee

23. Draw one in the dark - A cup of black coffee

24. First lady - Spareribs (probably a pun on Eve being made from Adam's rib)

25. Fish eyes/cat's eyes - Tapioca pudding

26. Flop two - Two fried eggs over easy

27. Frog sticks - French fries

28. GAC - A grilled American cheese sandwich (Also called a "jack" or a "Jack Benny" if there's bacon on it.)

29. Gravel train - Sugar bowl

30. Heart Attack on Rack - Biscuits and gravy

31. Hemorrhage - Ketchup

32. Hockey puck - A hamburger, well done

33. Hounds on an Island - Franks and beans

34. Houseboat - A banana split

35. In the alley - Served as a side dish

36. Maiden's delight - Cherries ("cherry" is slang for the maidenhead (archaic), or hymen)

37. Mississippi Mud/Yellow paint - mustard

38. Mystery in the alley - A side order of hash

39. Nervous pudding - Jelly/Jello

40. Noah's boy - A slice of ham (Ham was one of the Biblical Noah's sons)

41. Noah's boy with Murphy carrying a wreath - ham and potatoes with cabbage

42. On the hoof - Any kind of meat cooked rare

43. Pair of drawers - Two cups of coffee

44. Pittsburgh - Toast or burn something so it's charred on the outside but still red on the inside (probably a reference to Pittsburgh's smokestacks or coal beds)

45. Put out the lights and cry - Liver and onions

46. Sand/gravel/yum-yum - Sugar

47. Sea dust - salt

48. Shingle with a shimmy and a shake - Buttered toast with jam

49. Shoot from the South/Atlanta special - Coca-Cola (the company's headquarters are in Atlanta, Georgia)

50. Radio - A tuna salad sandwich on toast ("tuna down" or tuna on toast, sounds like "turn it down" the command often repeated when the radio is on in the kitchen)

51. Wax - American cheese

52. Whiskey - rye bread

53. Whiskey down - rye toast

54. Wreck 'em - Scrambled eggs

55. 86 - Remove an item from an order or from the menu; throw an item away (plenty of theories on the origins of this one, including: a reference to Article 86 of the New York State Liquor Code, which defines the circumstances under which a patron should be refused alcohol; 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.

A list like this is never complete, so tell us your favorite diner lingo if we missed it!

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15 Ways to Avoid Saying 'Death'
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People make up ridiculous, circuitous, preposterous terms when they’re afraid to discuss something—and death is near the top of anyone’s list of fears. Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf’s Spinglish: The Definitive Dictionary of Deliberately Deceitful Language is a terrific new dictionary of verbal evasions covering many subjects, including dozens of ways to avoid saying reaper-related words. As Beard and Cerf show, sometimes we’ll say anything to avoid the d-word.

1. arbitrary deprivation of life

This whopper comes from the State Department in 1984. It buries assassination—specifically assassination by so-called friendly governments—in jargon. The lifelessness of the phrasing is unintentionally appropriate.

2. terminal episode

This one is kinda sorta honest: the word terminal is at least in the ballpark of death. But there’s still something antiseptic about terminal episode, a term for death, especially one in a hospital. I’m reminded of another great death-related idiom that’s half-euphemistic: terminate with extreme prejudice. That’s a strongly worded assassination order that you might remember from Apocalypse Now.

3. attrit

To attrit is to kill. The Oxford English Dictionary traces this back to 1915 and a Daily Mail use: “Our Ministers talk of ending this war by ‘attrition.’ Who is being ‘attrited’ by these slovenly methods?” On the other hand, if you’ve been attritioned, you’re a bit better off: you’ve only been fired, a topic that is another lightning rod for euphemisms.

4. dynamically address

This term comes from the U.S. Army’s Task Force ODIN, who struggled with insurgents for control of Iraq’s roads. Needless to say, when ODIN dynamically addressed a situation, it resulted in casualties on the other side.

5. expectant

An earlier U.S. war gave us this term: in the Vietnam era, expectants were civilians expected to die.

6. sent on a trip to Belize

On a much lighter note, this term was used on Breaking Bad by the character Saul Goodman, who was trying to find a polite way to ask meth cooker Walter White if Walt’s brother-in-law Hank needed to be whacked. (Ah, whacked. Of course that’s also a euphemism for killing—one popularized by mob movies and The Sopranos.)

7. immediate permanent incapacitation

This term for death has a rather specific use: it appeared in a U.S. Army document about the impact and use of nuclear weapons. Whatever the cause, immediate permanent incapacitation is not recommended by doctors, with the exception of Dr. Doom.

8. game management

This sounds like the kind of careful supervision any game, contest, or sport requires. Nope. It’s a term for the mass killing of animals, either through hunting (itself a euphemism) or other slaughter.

9. go to Switzerland

There are plenty of reasons to literally go to Switzerland—but this sense is more metaphorical, as it involves seeking assisted suicide. The term is derived from the fact that it’s easier to get such end-of-life help in Switzerland.

10. self-injurious behavior incident

The Jargon Gods smiled and perhaps shuddered when the U.S Department of Defense came up with this term for suicide attempts at Guantanamo.

11. depopulation

When seven million chickens were euthanized in 1983 to prevent the spread of disease, the U.S. government needed a word to make this chicken-pocalypse sound less awful. So they settled on depopulation, a sterile term with a long history. Depopulation has referred to, as the OED puts it, “laying waste, devastation, ravaging, pillaging” since the 1400s.

12. diagnostic misadventure of high magnitude

Here’s another one from the medical world. While this sounds a little like hype for the latest summer movie—Diagnostic Misadventure of High Magnitude! Starring The Rock!—it actually applies to a specific sort of demise: when a patient dies during an exam due to malpractice. If the death occurred during treatment, it would be a therapeutic misadventure.

13. neutralize

This OED shows this term going back to at least 1937, in a (London) Times article: “A mechanized advance-guard battery was shown going into action in support of attacking infantry and attempting to neutralize an area.” If the meaning isn’t exactly clear, a 1970 report about Vietnam is more explicit: “The Phoenix program had resulted in some 15,000 VCI, meaning Vietcong infrastructure, or cadre, being ‘neutralized’ in 1968.” Neutralized = killed.

14. sacrificed

Lab rats—and lab monkeys, lab cats, and other lab critters—who die while being experimented on are said to be sacrificed. I guess this one isn’t totally deceitful. A scientist sacrificing a macaque for knowledge and a Satanist sacrificing a goat for the lord of the underworld are, in a way, doing the same thing.

15. health alteration

Here’s a euphemistic wonder. Technically, a health alternation could be almost anything, from catching a cold to dropping a few pounds. Alas, this is actually another term for assassination coined in the 1960s by the CIA. Let’s just say you wanted to stay off the radar of the health alteration committee.

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27 Cowboy Slang Terms for Things You Eat and Drink
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If your bread wallet is empty and you need to line the flue, knight the ribbons and mosey to a beanery. Your cookie-pusher will know what you mean when you order any of these 27 cowboy food and drink items.

1. Bear Sign: Doughnuts
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2. Overland trout: Bacon
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3. Blue John: Skimmed milk
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4. Boggy-top: A pie with no top crust
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5. Cackleberries: Eggs
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6. Charlie Taylor: A butter substitute made of sorghum or syrup mixed with fat. It wasn't good, and apparently neither was Charlie Taylor, who was terrible enough to lend his name to the unpopular trail staple.

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7. Hen-fruit Stir and Long Sweetenin': Pancakes and molasses
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8. Horse Thief Special / Spotted Pup: Rice or tapioca pudding with raisins
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9. Hot Rock / Sinker / Doughgods: Biscuits
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10. Huckdummy: Biscuits with raisins
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11. Love Apples: Canned tomatoes
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12. Music Roots: Sweet potatoes
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13. Mysteries: Sausage of any variety, so-called because that's what they're made of
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14. Bee-sweetenin’: Honey
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15. Pecos Strawberries / Mexican Strawberries / Whistle Berries: Beans
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16. Roastineer: To "roast an ear" of corn over the fire while still in its husk
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17. Salt Horse: Corned beef
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18. Saltwater Vegetables: Oysters or clams
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19. Sipper / Texas Butter: Gravy
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20. Skunk eggs: Onion
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21. Son-of-a-gun Stew (or if there are no womenfolk present, Son-of-a-bitch Stew): Stew made of whatever is available and the organs of a recently-slaughtered calf. So-called because the son-of-a-gun young cattle can't keep up on the trail.
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22. Wasp Nest: Bread

And don’t forget to order a drink!

23. Six-shooter Skink / Float a Horseshoe / Arbuckle's / Brown Gargle / Jamoka: Coffee
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24. Belly Wash / Soda Pop / Black Water: Really weak coffee
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25. John Barleycorn / Purge / Hop Juice: Beer
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26. Nose Paint / Pop Skull / Prairie Dew / Rebel Soldier / Red Eye / Snake Pizen / Tarantula Juice / Tongue Oil / Tonsil Paint / Tornado Juice / Busthead / Bottled Courage / Family Disturbance / Gut Warmer / Kansas Sheep Dip: Whiskey
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27. And a shot of whiskey with a beer chaser is a boilermaker and his helper.

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We'd need a book to list them all -- what's your favorite cowboy food slang?

Collected from Legends of America's Old West Slang Dictionary and Westopedia: The Language and Lore of Real America by Win Blevins

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