Diner lingo is said to have roots in the 1850s, but didn’t gain much traction until it permeated the popular luncheonettes during the next century. Things like “BLT,” “mayo,” and eggs “over easy” all originated as shorthand calls to the cook before worming their way into casual conversations. Here are some scrumptious phrases you might not be as familiar with.
1. Whiskey Down: Rye Toast
“Rye” and “white” sounded too similar when yelled over the din of a loud, crowded diner, so waitresses started swapping out “whiskey” for “rye” (since there’s a type of whiskey called rye). “Down” is a reference to pushing the knob on the toaster down to make your toast.
2. First Lady: Spare Ribs
This one isn’t a presidential reference, but rather a biblical one. The literal first lady was Eve, who (according to Genesis) was said to have been created from Adam’s spare rib.
3. Adam and Eve: Poached Eggs (With Assorted Sides)
Adam makes an appearance with the popular Eve as stand-ins for a pair of poached eggs. You can order them “on a log” (with sausage), “on a raft” (with toast), or “on a raft and wreck ‘em” (if they’re scrambled on toast). “Adam and Steve” will get you two sausages.
4. Eve With a Lid On: Apple Pie
In this all-American dessert, Eve refers to the apple (which is often used as a stand-in for the fruit she used to tempt Adam, despite evidence that the biblical fruit was probably closer to a pomegranate). The “lid” is the pie’s crust. And if you ask for a slice of cheddar to go with your pie, you’ll be treated to a “moldy lid.”
5. S.O.S.: Minced Dried Beef with Gravy on Toast
The dish originally took its nickname from military lexicon because it was common in base mess halls. But among the diners, the acronym was given a few unflattering meanings: Stew On a Shingle, Same Old Stuff, Save Our Stomachs, and, most popularly, S**t On a Shingle.
6. Radio: Tuna Salad on Toast
We’ve already learned that “down” means “toast,” so it follows that the original slang for a tuna sandwich was a “tuna down.” This later evolved to “radio” because diner staff thought that sounded an awful lot like “turn it down”—something you’d do to the dial.
7. Drag One Through Georgia: Coca-Cola with Chocolate Syrup
This sticky-sweet diner classic gets its name from Coca-Cola headquarters’ home in Atlanta, Georgia (an “Atlanta special” is just regular Coke). “Dragging” the drink through Georgia refers to making it muddy (or chocolaty).
8. Battle Creek in a Bowl: Corn Flakes
This one is also a reference to company headquarters—this time the Kellogg Company, which is based in Battle Creek, Michigan.
9. Jack: Grilled Cheese
A “Grilled American Cheese” is a GAC—pronounced and often written as Jack. Add bacon and it becomes a Jack Benny, after the famed comedian and radio host.
10. Pittsburgh: Toast or Char
Sorry, Yinzers, this is likely an unflattering reference to the smokestack-filled skyline of Pittsburgh in the mid-20th century.
11. 86: To Remove or Run Out of An Item
This one has a few proposed origin stories. These include: 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 Chumley's Bar and Restaurant in New York City, where trash was thrown out the back door at 86 Bedford Street; and a reference to Delmonico's Restaurant in NYC, where item #86 on their menu, the house steak, was often unavailable due to its popularity. But more likely it’s intended to rhyme with “nixed.”
12. Bridge: Four of Anything
This stems from the fact that the card game, bridge, requires four players.
13. Stretch: Large Coke
Back when sodas were made on diner premises by combining syrup with carbonated water, soda jerks would try to “stretch” a little bit of syrup as long as possible to flavor the large drink.
14. Noah’s Boy on Bread: Ham Sandwich
Another biblical reference, this time to one of the ark-builder’s sons, Ham.
15. Why Bother: Decaffeinated Coffee with Non-Fat Milk
Fairly self-explanatory, no?