A Quick Lesson In Essential Diner Lingo

A Quick Lesson In Essential Diner Lingo
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Diners were once the best places to eat. The food was decent and cheap, and the atmosphere was relaxed. And a big part of the fun was the colourful slang diner staff used to communicate with each other. Here’s what all those weird terms mean, hun’.

Photo by David Sifry.

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  • City juice, Adam’s ale, dog soup: Water
  • Dirty water, cup of joe, draw one, a cup of mud: Cup of coffee (“draw one in the dark” is a cup of black coffee)
  • Make it moo: Add milk to a coffee
  • Blonde with sand: Coffee with cream and sugar
  • Pair of drawers: Two cups of coffee
  • Barley water: Beer
  • Black cow: Chocolate milk or milkshake
  • Swamp water: Soft drink
  • Battery acid: Grapefruit juice
  • Hug ’em: Orange juice
  • Moo juice, cow juice, baby juice, sweet Alice: Milk
  • Belch water, balloon water: Soda water or sparkling water
  • Shoot from the South, Atlanta special: Coca-Cola
  • Drag one through Georgia: Coca-Cola with chocolate syrup

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  • Cackle fruit, cackle berries, hen fruit: Eggs
  • Flop two: Two fried eggs over easy
  • Wreck ’em: Scrambled eggs
  • Cluck and grunt: Eggs and bacon
  • Two dots and a dash: Two fried eggs and a strip of bacon
  • Roller: Sausage link
  • Cowboy with spurs: Western omelette with French fries
  • Adam and Eve on a raft: Two poached eggs on toast
  • Chicks on a raft: Eggs on toast
  • Whiskey down: Rye toast
  • Birdseed: Breakfast cereal
  • Noah’s boy: Slice of ham (“Noah’s boy with Murphy carrying a wreath” is ham and potatoes with cabbage)
  • Burn the British: Toasted English muffin
  • Customer will take a chance, clean up the kitchen, sweep the floor: Hash (“mystery in the alley” is a side order of hash)
  • Dough well done with cow to cover: Buttered toast
  • Heart attack on rack: Biscuits and gravy
  • Shingle with a shimmy and a shake: Buttered toast with jam
  • Motor oil: Syrup

Lunch and Dinner

  • Cow feed: Salad
  • Hockey puck: Well-done hamburger
  • Yellow blanket on a dead cow: Cheeseburger
  • Walk a cow through the garden: Burger with lettuce, tomato and onion
  • Radio: Tuna salad sandwich on toast (“tuna down” is tuna on toast and it sounds like “turn it down”, referring to the radio)
  • First lady: Rack of ribs
  • Bow-wow, bun pup, tube steak, groundhog, Coney Island, Coney Island chicken, Coney Island bloodhound: Hot dog
  • Bloodhound in the hay: Hot dog with sauerkraut
  • Butcher’s revenge: Meatloaf
  • Whistle berries, bullets: Baked beans
  • Frog sticks: French fries
  • All hot: Baked potato
  • Bossy in a bowl: Beef stew
  • GAC, jack: Grilled American cheese sandwich (“Jack Benny” if there’s bacon on it)
  • Hounds on an island: Franks and beans
  • Put out the lights and cry: Liver and onions
  • Cluck and wrap: Chicken enchiladas
  • Moo and wrap: Beef enchiladas
  • Stampede blanket: Bean and beef Burrito


  • Fish eyes, cat eyes: Tapioca pudding
  • Houseboat: Banana split
  • Eve with a lid on: Apple pie
  • Nervous pudding: Jelly
  • Magoo: Custard pie
  • Sleigh ride special: Vanilla pudding


  • Mike and Ike: Salt and pepper shakers
  • Yellow paint, Mississippi mud: Mustard
  • Hemorrhage: Ketchup
  • Cow paste, axle grease, skid grease: Butter
  • Yum-yum, sand, gravel: Sugar
  • Gravel train: Sugar bowl
  • Sea dust: Salt
  • Bronx vanilla, halitosis, Italian perfume: Garlic
  • Grass: Lettuce
  • Breath: Onion
  • Maiden’s delight: Cherries
  • Wax: American cheese


  • 86: Remove an item from an order (“hold the…” works as well)
  • Bubble dancer: Dishwasher
  • George Eddy: Customer who doesn’t tip
  • Soup jockey: Waitress
  • Burn one: Put a hamburger on the grill
  • In the alley: Served as a side dish
  • On the hoof: Meat cooked rare
  • Pittsburgh: Toast or burn something so it’s charred on the outside

Why did diner cooks and wait staff use such bizarre terminology? Nobody is certain, but it’s been around since the late 1800s. Some say it’s because the silly names made it easier for short-order cooks to remember everything, but also, it’s fun, and it’s the little things that can help break up a long day pouring coffee. So, now you know everything you need to impress your friends and annoy your poor waitresses who don’t actually talk like this any more!

Welcome to Retro Week, where we’ll be firing up the flux capacitor and bringing you 1950s know-how on everything from casserole-making to fallout-shelter-building to the joys of letting kids relax and play with trash.


  • I dimly recall a burger order by Dagwood Bumstead that a burger without sause was “kill the cow and drain the blood”
    I forget the name but there was a regular character in the Blondie cartoon strip who made burgers and wore a chef’s hat that Dagwood would interact with.

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