Mel's Diner Servers - © CBS TV

Just For Fun: Diner Lingo! A Cultural Treasure Preserved

Folks today have all but forgotten the unique language of American diner staff in their heyday – the 1930s and 40s. Just for fun, I’ve dug up a glossary of slang terms you’d have heard at the counter when ordering lunch…

A True Classic: New York State’s first authentic railcar diner, opened in 1927.
Still in business today! They claim it was just the 4th diner in America.

A rich tradition

Diner lingo was the particular slang that ‘counter men’ (servers) used to communicate orders to the cooks in the back. Some regular customers even came to use it. It didn’t necessarily speed things up. But it did help differentiate order instructions from the background din of the eatery.

I’ve mined the wealth of Diner lingo found at Wikipedia,, Taste of Home and the Fox News archives…

A carefully curated Glossary of Diner Slang terms

  • 86 – omit from an order; “hold”
  • Adam and Eve on a raft – two poached eggs atop toast
  • Adam’s ale – water
  • B&B – bread and butter
  • Baled hay – shredded wheat
  • Bad breath – onions
  • Bark – frankfurter
  • Battle Creek in a bowl – bowl of corn flakes cerea
  • Belly warmer – coffee
  • Blue plate special – a discount-priced meal that usually changes daily
  • Bowl of red – chili con carne
  • Bow wow – hot dog
  • Brick – biscuit
  • Bridge/Bridge party – four of anything
  • Bullets – beans
  • Burn it – well done
  • Burn the British – toasted English muffin
  • Cackleberries – eggs
  • Checkerboard – waffle
  • City juice – water
  • Cowboy with spurs – western omelette with fries
  • Cow paste – butter
  • Dead eye – poached egg
  • Dragged through the garden – serve with a large variety of toppings and condiments (usually vegetables).
  • Drown the kids – boiled eggs
  • Echo – repeat of the last order
  • Eve with a lid – apple pie
  • Greasy spoon – slang term for a diner
  • Hemorrhage – ketchup
  • Hockey puck – a well-done burger
  • Halitosis – garlic; originated in the 1920s
  • Houseboat – banana split
  • Java – coffee
  • Jayne Mansfield – tall stack of pancakes
  • Joe – coffee
  • Life preserver – doughnut
  • Lumber – a toothpick
  • Lumberjack float- a glass of water with toothpick
  • Machine oil – syrup
  • Maiden’s delight – cherries
  • Make it cry – add onions
  • Moo juice – milk
  • Nervous pudding – Jell-O
  • O’Connors – potatoes
  • On a raft – Texas toast in place of buns
  • On the hoof – cooked rare (for any kind of meat)
  • Put wheels on it – carry-out order; to go
  • Rabbit food – lettuce
  • Shingles with a shimmy and a shake – buttered toast with jam
  • Shit on a shingle – chipped beef and milk gravy served on toast
  • Sinker – doughnut
  • Skid grease – butter
  • Squeal – ham
  • Sunny side up – a fried egg cooked on one side
  • Tube steak – hot dog
  • Two dots and a dash – two fried eggs and a strip of bacon
  • Wet mystery – beef stew
  • Whiskey down – rye toast
  • Wreck ’em – scrambled eggs
  • Yard bird – chicken
  • Yum yum – sugar


What a great way of communicating. As rich and colourful – and fun! – as the stuff they were serving! And thanks to the Internet, it’s been preserved for future generations even after the last of the authentic old school diners have vanished from the landscape.

Just for fun, try it in your own kitchen and see what kind if reaction you get!

~ Maggie J.