Diner Slang and Lunch Counter Lingo: A Quiz


Invented dialect spoken here …

New York City is famous for several schools of what might be called waiter’s lingo, or lunch-counter slang. In the 19th-century hash houses of the city — where a nickel bought a full meal that often included a plate of beans — a steak might be called “slaughter in the pan” and a Napoleon pastry, “fallen greatness.”

[Or you can skip the quiz entirely, lazybones, and just view the answers here.]

Beginning in 1920s, Gotham diners spun off lots of slang that one often witnesses in movies of the 1930s and 1940s, and many of these expressions have migrated into the common parlance. In diner lingo, “short stack” is a small pile of pancakes, while “zeppelins in fog” are a pair of sausages sided with mashed potatoes, an expression that certainly reflected a gallows humor associated with the First World War.

Here are two quizzes, one for 19th-century hash-house language, the other for 20th-century diner slang. Match each numbered expressions with a lettered dish. Check back tomorrow at the same time for the correct answers.

Quiz One: 19th-Century Hash-House Lingo*

1. Fried sleeve buttons
2. A plate of summertime
3. A band of music with the leader
4. Soaked bums
5. Stack of browns
6. Red Mike with a bunch of violets
7. Drop one on the brown
8. A Sheeny funeral with two on horseback
9. Draw one, three off
10. Two ham on one

A. A cup of coffee with three pancakes
B. Fish cakes
C. Pork and beans
D. Buckwheat pancakes
E. Hash with an egg
F. Oatmeal
G. Roast pork and boiled potatoes
H. Two ham sandwiches on the same plate
I. Corned beef and cabbage
J. Pickled beets

*Taken from William Grimes’s Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York

What would you call these things?

20th-Century Diner Slang

1. Baby
2. Tube steak
3. Burn one
4. Drag one through Wisconsin
5. Bucket of cold mud
6. Million on a platter
7. One from the Alps
8. Shivering hay
9. Wax
10. Mike and Ike
11. Cowboy with spurs
12. Battery acid
13. Fish eyes
14. City juice
15. Eve with a lid on
16. Adam’s ale, hold the hail

A. Western omelet with french fries
B. Water without ice
C. Hot dog
D. Hamburger, well done
E. Apple pie
F. Chocolate ice cream
G. Baked beans
H. Swiss cheese sandwich
I. American cheese
J. Salt and pepper shakers
K. Cheeseburger
L. Grapefruit juice
M. Glass of milk
N. Tapioca pudding
O. Water
P. Strawberry Jell-O