Diner Lingo: American Small Restaurant Slang

As a child growing up in America during the 1940’s and 1950’s one of my favorite treats was going to the local diner for a meal. Every town in America had at least one diner, which is a small restaurant (about 4 meters deep and often resembling a railroad dining car) where the customers sit at a counter on stools, and the food preparation is done behind the counter most often against the far wall. The two to four waitresses and one to three cooks work in the same very confined space, serving relatively simple wholesome food that can be cooked to order quickly, on a griddle or in a skillet.

The waitresses and cooks communicate in a special “lingo”, or language made up of mnemonic devices, which allows the staff to serve a large number of customers in a short period of time. In most cases the orders are not written down for the cooks, who start cooking the food and placing markers on the plates as soon as the waitress call out the order in a very loud voice. This “lingo” is part of the charm of the diner, and is gradually being lost along with the diners, as they are replaced with McDonalds, Burger Kings, and other fast food restaurants. “Diner Lingo” is virtually unknown outside the USA, some phrases are tongue-in-cheek, some are humorous, some are ribald and all are effective. While the actual phrases used vary from diner to diner, all use some. The following is a list of a few of these phrases. I hope you enjoy reading about this small part of America. (A quiz follows.)

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  • Atlanta special – Coke a Cola (Coke headquarters is in Atlanta, Georgia)
  • Bun pup, Tube steak, Groundhog, Coney Island – Hot dog
  • Burn one – Cook a hamburger
  • Check the ice – Look at the pretty girl who just came in
  • Doc – Dr. Pepper soda
  • Drag it through the garden – Any sandwich with all toppings and condiments on it
  • Drag one through Georgia – Coca Cola with chocolate syrup
  • Fish eyes – Tapioca pudding
  • Flop two – Two fried eggs
  • Forty weight – Typically very strong coffee, favored by truck drivers to keep them awake
  • Frog sticks – French fries (A play on the derogatory name of Frog for a Frenchman)
  • Give it wings – Serve it quickly
  • Houseboat – Banana split
  • Let it walk, On Wheels, Give it shoes – An order to go
  • Life preservers, Sinkers – Doughnuts
  • Moo juice, Cow juice, Baby juice, Baby – Milk
  • Nervous pudding – Jello
  • On the hoof – Any kind of meat served very rare
  • Pittsburgh – Any item cooked very well or burned (Reference to Pittsburgh, PA, a steel producing town with excessive smoke from the steel plants)
  • Shake one in the hay – Strawberry milkshake
  • Shit on a shingle, S.O.S – Chipped dried beef in gravy on toast (both a loved and hated staple in US Army dining facilities)
  • Throw it in the mud – Add chocolate syrup
  • Virgin soda – Any soda with cherry syrup added. (Virgin Coke)
  • White cow – Vanilla milkshake
  • Wreck’em – Scrambled eggs

For fun translate these into English from Diner Lingo:

  1. Flop two medium, shit on a shingle, forty weight with baby, and give it wings.
  2. Burn one, drag it through the garden, frog sticks, and a virgin Atlanta special.
  3. Burn two, one on the hoof, one Pittsburgh, shake one in the hay, one white cow, double frog sticks, and let it walk, then check the ice.
  4. Flop two two and wreck’em, add two sinkers for the forty weight.

For many more see:

Sobre o Autor: Bill Slayman tem 66 anos é americano e mora em Pensacola, Florida, USA. Ele atuou no exército americano e hoje está aposentado. Suas paixões são: andar de Harley Davidson, motocicletas, fotografia e qualquer coisa brasileira. Bill é um dos maiores colaboradores do EE.

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14 comentários

  • 20/07/11  
    Frederico diz: 1

    Bill Slayman, tempos atrás, escrevi artigo em meu blog a respeito de 100 palavras inglesas de origem portuguesa. Foi interessante saber que existe o termo TAPIOCA (fish eyes – tapioca pudding) nos dicionários ingleses por influência do português.

    • 21/07/11  
      w.slayman diz:


      It is amazing how many words in European languages can trace their roots to other European languages, especially the ancient languages of Greece and Rome.
      I am happy that you enjoyed the article.

    • 22/07/11  
      Frederico diz:

      Bill Slayman,

      The Webster Dictionary explains that “tapioca” comes from Tupi (Indian language). Probably, Portugal presented “tapioca” to Europe. First known use of tapioca: 1707.

  • 20/07/11  
    Marcelo diz: 2

    1) Dois ovos fritos, carne na torrada, café forte com leite e depressa.
    2) Um hamburguer completo, fritas e Coca Cola com xarope de cereja.
    3) Dois hamburgueres, um mal passado, outro bem passado, milkshake de morango, milkshake de baunilha, fritas duplo para viagem. Dê uma olhada na garota.
    4) Dois ovos fritos, dois mexidos e duas rosquinhas acompanhando o café forte.


    • 21/07/11  
      w.slayman diz:


      I did not expect a double translation, “Diner Lingo” to English to Portuguese.
      Great work.

  • 20/07/11  
    Marília diz: 3

    Wow… they definitely have their own language.. that’s too much to remember…

    • 21/07/11  
      w.slayman diz:

      Yes they certainly do have their own “Lingo”, but this article was intended a fun thing to read about, and not for serious study.
      I am happy that you enjoyed it.

  • 20/07/11  
    Silvana Chaves diz: 4

    Muito legais as expressões!
    Eu se fosse a um restaurante gringo, iria ficar boiando até entender o que é o que…rsrsrsrs.

    Um recado para o Bill:
    Bill, many thanks for the tips. You are very special and has helped us a lot.
    See you!!

    • 21/07/11  
      w.slayman diz:


      Thank you for your kind comments. The appreciation of my friends on EE helps keep me working on EE.

  • 21/07/11  
    Rafael Isquierdo diz: 5

    What a nice thing to know about the U.S.

    That’s culture! and it came straight from the source!

  • 21/07/11  
    w.slayman diz: 6


    Learning obscure facts and items of interest about another country can only help bridge the differences of their cultures, and understanding of the people.
    I am not sure if “Diner Lingo” is culture ;), but I am sure it is interesting and makesd for fun reading.

  • 21/07/11  
    w.slayman diz: 7

    To all, a post script,

    While many american “Diners” have disappeared forever, in the southern US there are two chains who have survived and are thriving. They are “Waffle House”, pictured above, and “Huddle House”. If you get the chance visit one while in visiting the southern US. I think you will enjoy the experience.

  • 23/07/11  
    diego lopes diz: 8

    Every well. Thanks

  • 25/08/11  
    Thiago arthur diz: 9

    wow , very good , the text was perfect and I learn some new words. and the slangs I liked too.
    Take care and thanks Slayman!