If you've ever heard a waitress in a diner cry out, "Adam and Eve on a raft, wreck 'em!" or, "Sweep the kitchen with Noah's boy!" you should be familiar with diner lingo. Diner lingo is a colorful form of shorthand between a roadside diner's wait staff and the kitchen. Many pop culture historians trace the origins of diner lingo to the 1870s, when many African-Americans found employment as cooks in the first generation of diners. Illiteracy was a common problem in post-Civil War America, so waiters and cooks created their own spoken lingo to remember a large number of incoming orders.
Diner lingo is one example of a working mnemonic device, a mental trick that aids memory. In the above paragraph, "Adam and Eve" refers to two eggs, usually poached. The "raft" is a piece of toast. "Wreck 'em!" is a cue for the cook to scramble the eggs. "Sweep the kitchen" is diner lingo for hash, and "Noah's boy" means a slice of ham, referring to Noah's second son, Ham. Experienced cooks can keep dozens of these orders in their heads without using any paper tickets.
There are literally hundreds of diner lingo terms and variants, a few of which are too racy to be recounted here. Some of these words and phrases have entered popular use, such as mayo, blue plate special and java. Others, such as dog and maggot for crackers and cheese, mercifully have not survived. It has been said that the alternative rock group REM titled their album Automatic for the People after overhearing a local cook's diner lingo.
Diner lingo covers all aspects of the menu items and their preparation. Whenever a cook burns food, the result is often called Pittsburgh, after the large factory smokestacks found there. Meat cooked rare is known as on the hoof. Take-out orders may be on wheels or going for a walk.
In diner lingo, beverages often go by several different names. Water could become city juice or Adam's Ale, while milk is called baby, Sweet Alice or moo juice. Seltzer is belch water, while coffee can be anything from mud to Joe to java. Coffee served with cream and sugar is a blonde with sand.
Popular food items with memorable diner lingo names include hot dogs, which could be bun pups, Coney Island Chickens, groundhogs, or bowwows. Hamburgers and hash could both be rendered as sweep up the kitchen, based on their sometimes questionable contents. In diner lingo, the customer will take a chance can also refer to hash. Other popular diner menu items include liver and onions, which may be called back to the kitchen as put out the lights and make them cry.
There are many more examples of diner lingo available on the Internet and in kitchen reference books. It has become more difficult to hear authentic diner lingo since the decline of American diners in the 1970s, but some nostalgia-themed restaurants still maintain some of the language. A few small restaurants in rural areas still use a form of diner lingo, although advances in computerized ordering systems have largely eliminated the need for verbal orders.