Diner Slang

Waiters and cooks in diners and other short-order restaurants have traditionally used a colorful jargon to describe the various orders that customers place. What follows is a number of terms in this jargon. Now, this jargon is not universal; not all diners use it and often there are many different variants and options for a particular order, as witnessed by the numerous names for common food items on this list.

Some of these jargon terms, like eighty-six and java, are more general slang. Most of the others are obscure.

The jargon probably arose as a means of entertainment, both for the staff who would quickly tire of the same orders again and again and for the amusement of customers. And of course this diner slang served the traditional purpose of a jargon of identifying those who were experienced in the short-order business.

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Department of Humorous Names

According to the Associated Press, the Cornwall Record Office in Britain has compiled a list of 1,000 odd or unusual names found in census, birth, death, and marriage records dating back to the 16th century. The list contains such gems as Abraham Thunderwolff and Freke Dorothy Fluck Lane.

The list was inspired by the discovery of a real-life Horatio Hornblower in county records, a name more famous as being that of C.S. Forester’s fictional naval hero. The real Horatio had six siblings, named Azubia, Constantia, Jecoliah, Jedidah, Jerusha and Erastus.

The records tell us that a man named Levi Jeans lived in Cornwall in the late-18th century.

Other names on the list include Boadicea Basher, Philadelphia Bunnyface, Faithful Cock, Susan Booze, Elizabeth Disco, Edward Evil, Fozzitt Bonds, Truth Bullock, Charity Chilly, Gentle Fudge, Obedience Ginger and Offspring Gurney.

Marriage records tell us that Nicholas Bone and Priscilla Skin were joined in wedlock in 1636. Charles Swine and Jane Ham were married in 1711 and John Mutton and Ann Veale tied the knot in 1791. Finally, Richard Dinner and Mary Cook were joined in 1802.

Stormy Weather

Katrina devastated New Orleans and Mississippi. Now Rita is slamming into the Texas coast. Where do these names come from? Who picks them?

Traditionally, hurricanes were named for the saint’s day on which the hurricane occurred. This practice was prevalent in the Spanish West Indies. The same storm could have different names in different locales, depending on the day it struck each location as it moved across the Caribbean. On 13 September 1876, Hurricane San Felipe hit Puerto Rico. 52 years later, on 13 September 1928, Hurricane San Felipe the Second hit the island. This practice was even Anglicized on occasion; the September 1935 storm that devastated New England is known as the Labor Day storm.

With the advent of modern meteorology and storm tracking, the use of names that changed daily was untenable. The use of women’s names for storms began in the 1940s, following the use of a woman’s name for a storm in the 1941 novel Storm by George Stewart. Women’s names were used exclusively until 1978, except for 1951-52 when storms were named after the phonetic alphabet (Able, Baker, Charlie, etc.). In 1978, male names were added to the list of names for Pacific storms and a year later, Atlantic storm name list followed suit.

For each year the World Meteorological Organization creates a list of 21 male and female names for Atlantic storms, one for each letter of the alphabet (letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z are not used due to the relatively few names that begin with those letters). The list includes French, Spanish, Dutch, and English names to reflect the languages spoken throughout the Caribbean. The names are periodically reused, although names of storms that cause significant destruction are retired from the list. So, it is unlikely that we will ever have a Katrina the Second.

The Tropical Prediction Center in Miami, Florida tracks Atlantic storms. As soon as one is identified with wind speeds in excess of 38 miles per hour (34 knots), the next name on the list is assigned to the storm. Not all of these tropical storms grow into hurricanes and not all make significant landfall. (Which explains why we can go from Katrina to Rita in only a few weeks.)

If the list of names is exhausted and more storms continue to arise, the plan is to start naming them with letters of the Greek alphabet (alpha, beta, gamma, etc.). This has never happened before, but is a near certainty this year as hurricane season runs through November and we’re already on Rita. The most storms on record in a single season is twenty one, recorded in 1933, but this was before the modern system of nomenclature was introduced. 1995 is second, with nineteen named storms that year.

Gone To The Dogs

He may be man’s best friend, but no one is quite sure where his name comes from.

The word dog appears once in Old English, in a gloss from ca.1050, rather late in the Old English period. The gloss reads "canum docgena." Initially, dog was used to refer to particularly large canines. The origin of the word is obscure with no known root in other languages. Several European languages have cognates of dog, but these are all descended from the English word and provide no clue as to its original provenance.

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Esquivalience and Other Mountweazels

The August 29th issue of The New Yorker contains an article by Henry Alford in the Talk of the Town section about esquivalience and other mountweazels. Esquivalience? Mountweazel? Surely those aren’t words to be found in a dictionary?

Well, it seems the first is in a dictionary and the second appears in an encyclopedia. The 2nd edition of the New Oxford American Dictionary defines the first as:

"esquivalience—n. the willful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities ... late 19th cent.; perhaps from the French esquiver, ‘dodge, slink away.’"

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