27 Secret Phrases You Would Only Hear at a ’50s Diner
Paint a bow-wow red, shingle with a shimmy and a shake, drown the kids?? Welcome to the wacky world of diner lingo, where elephants have dandruff, the salads have warts, and your server might kindly ask the chef to put the lights out and cry.
Burn one, take it through the garden, and pin a rose on it
Don’t be alarmed when you order a hamburger and hear this called out instead. “Burn one” refers to dropping the burger in the grill, and “taking it through the garden” means topping it with lettuce and tomato. Your burger is then finished with the most fragrant of roses: the onion. Looking for the best fast food burger? We tried them all and found a favorite.
Shingle with a shimmy and shake
Besides being an excellent tongue-twister, this phrase is a cheeky way to call out for buttered toast with jam. Hopefully, your toast is a little more tender than a roof tile. Speaking of jammy toast—here are 70 childhood classics all grown up.
Cowboy with spurs
While I wouldn’t mind sitting down across from a cowboy, this actually means a Western (or Denver) omelet with french fries. I know. I’m disappointed, too. Lift your spirits by learning how to make it at home.
This quirky term refers to a banana split, named such because of their resemblance to the nomadic homestead. Banana splits have been an American classic since their invention in 1904 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, which still holds the Great American Banana Split Celebration to this day.
Drag one through Wisconsin
Drag anything through Wisconsin and it’s bound to pick up some of this ingredient—cheese! (See our top Wisco recipes.) Wisconsin isn’t the only place your diner is dragging things—”drag one through the garden” means putting all the condiments on it, and “drag one through Georgia” is a weird phrase for the even weirder beverage: cola with chocolate syrup.
Somebody searched high and low for the least appetizing way to describe corn flakes, and they sure found it! But if you’re still keen on corn flakes, you’ll want to order it with “baby juice,” a.k.a. milk. Find out the weirdest food laws in every state.
Adam and Eve on a raft
This is possibly one of the better-known diner terms, referring to two eggs on toast. But the dynamic duo inspired a whole slew of breakfast terms, like “Adam and Eve on a log” for eggs and sausage, or “Adam and Eve on a raft and wreck ’em” for scrambled eggs and toast. Poor Adam and Eve, what a precarious lifestyle! Order up these eggy breakfasts at home.
Twist it, choke it, and make it cackle
Wow! Diners sure are violent! Don’t be afraid, your server is just ordering a chocolate malt with an egg. Although the term does serve as an excellent warning to any would-be dine-and-dashers. Psst! Learn why you should be adding an egg to your coffee, too.
Put the lights out and cry
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Maybe the chef is asking for a little privacy while they express some emotional vulnerability, maybe you just ordered liver and onions. Onions often get a bad rap in diner lingo—”make it cry” is another way to get something topped with onions, and “chewed with fine breath” is hamburger and onions. How…appetizing.
Who knew your piece of sliced ham was directly related to the biblical patriarch himself!? Diners love some good wordplay, and the association between Noah’s son Ham and your choice of protein is just too good to pass up. Don’t miss the surprising birthplace of your favorite foods.
In the alley
Any side dish you order in a diner comes “in the alley,” unless you’re ordering hash, which is “mystery in the alley.” Hash has a whole host of other nicknames, all equally terrifying, from “kitchen sweepings” to “the customer will take their chance.”
Stretch one and paint it red
More violence?! No, it’s just another way to ask for a coke with cherry syrup. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, Coca-Cola used to sell “stretched” bottles of their soda, which were over a foot tall.
Blue plate special
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Most diners will have a daily special meal called the “Blue Plate Special,” available at a lower price. Legend has it that this meal got its name from plates sold during the Depression, which had separate compartments for different foods and were only available in the color blue. Check out these Depression-era recipes worth trying today.
“Radio” refers to a tuna sandwich, since tuna on toast gets called out as “tuna down,” which sounds like “turn it down,” a phrase often shouted when someone is playing the radio too loud in the kitchen. It’s basically like the game “Telephone!” Or…”Radio”… These healthy tuna recipes will perk you right up.
Angels on horseback
Sure, you could just call them bacon-wrapped oysters, but that’s not nearly as fun. Feeling naughty? Bacon-wrapped fruit is referred to as Devils on Horseback. Eat both and enjoy the apocalypse inside your very own stomach! Find out the one food you have to try in every state.
Eve with a moldy lid
Shake off that shudder, this is actually a very tasty treat—apple pie topped with cheese. What?! You’ve never had cheese-topped pie? Pie and cheese have been a common pairing for centuries—since 160 B.C. to be exact—while ice cream on top of pie only appeared more recently, starting in the Midwest during the mid-1800s. Not totally sold? Baby steps! Try out this beginner’s pie and cheese, an apple pie with a delicious cheddar crust.
Wow, Eve is really making a name for herself in diner lingo. A sly reference to Eve’s purported creation from Adam’s extra rib, this does indeed refer to—you guessed it—spare ribs. Add our best rib recipes to your BBQ bucket list.
Drown the kids
Yikes. Sometimes diner terms have a dark side. Even if the phrase is just a way to tell the chef to boil the eggs, still gonna back away from this one…very…slowly…
Who knew a plate of spaghetti would require so much diplomacy? However, if you’re ordering it with meatballs, you’ll want to get the “lead pipes with rounded cows.” Don’t miss these 20 recipes like grandma used to make.
Paint a bow-wow red
If you want a hot dog with ketchup, then you want to “paint a bow-wow red,” and with sauerkraut is a “bloodhound in the hay.” But if you’re ordering it with mustard, you want that “baby sauce.” Baby sauce and relish? “Mickey Rooney.” “Mickey Rooney” no relish? “Cut the grass.” So on, so forth. Here are 20 ways to make hot dogs more fun.
Bucket of hail
Order a glass of ice, get a bucket of hail. Hey, at least it’s all-natural and straight from the source. But if you want water, well then my friend you’re gonna need that “city water.” Love eating out? Here’s the most popular fast food restaurant the year you were born.
Give it shoes
Alternatively “Go for a walk,” this is the call-out to make your order to-go. Although, you might want to give your food a good sniff before you eat it to make sure the cook didn’t miss the metaphor. Here are a few habits that fast food workers secretly dislike. Are you guilty of any?
In the hay
Another little gem of some darn good wordplay. You ordered the strawberry milkshake, ergo strawberry to straw, straw to hay. Tah-dah! Don’t miss the best ice cream shops in each state.
Blonde with sand
Sure you could order a coffee with cream and sugar, but you’ll be way cooler if you order a blonde with sand. Unless your server has never heard of diner lingo, in which case this is awkward and I’m sorry. Don’t miss the 12 mistakes everyone makes when brewing coffee.
Sinkers and suds
Unsurprisingly, diner lingo is full of terms for the absolute diner staple: coffee. “Sinkers and suds” is a cutsie term for doughnuts and coffee, although you can order the coffee alone as a “belly warmer.” Find the best doughnut shop in your state.
If you need to season up for your food, you’ll need to ask for The Twins: salt and pepper, of course! Thinking a little more garlic? That’ll be the Bronx Vanilla.
Olives on anything are called warts in Dinerland. But despite their wacky name, ol-love them, warts and all. Next, check out this guide to the best American comfort food in all 50 states.