27 Secret Phrases You Would Only Hear at a ’50s Diner

Updated: Jan. 05, 2022

Paint a bow-wow red, shingle with a shimmy and a shake, drown the kids?? Welcome to the wacky world of diner lingo, where elephants have dandruff, the salads have warts, and your server might kindly ask the chef to put the lights out and cry.

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American dinner
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Burn One, Take It Through the Garden and Pin a Rose On It

Don’t be alarmed when you order a hamburger and hear this called out instead. “Burn one” refers to dropping the burger in the grill, and “taking it through the garden” means topping it with lettuce and tomato. Your burger is then finished with the most fragrant of roses: the onion. Looking for the best fast food burger? We tried them all and found a favorite.

Next up: Here are 12 dining habits restaurant staffers secretly dislike.

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Thick sliced Texas toast with strawberry apple preserves

Shingle with a Shimmy and Shake

Besides being an excellent tongue-twister, this phrase is a cheeky way to call out for buttered toast with jam. Hopefully, your toast is a little more tender than a roof tile. Speaking of jammy toast—here are 70 childhood classics all grown up.

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Omelette in a plate on marble background
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Cowboy with Spurs

While I wouldn’t mind sitting down across from a cowboy, this actually means a Western (or Denver) omelet with french fries. I know. I’m disappointed, too. Lift your spirits by learning how to make it at home.

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Sweet Homemade Banana Split Sundae with Chocolate Vanilla Strawberry Ice Cream
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This quirky term refers to a banana split, named such because of their resemblance to the nomadic homestead. Banana splits have been an American classic since their invention in 1904 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, which still holds the Great American Banana Split Celebration to this day.

Get the recipes for all your favorite classic diner desserts!

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chef sprinkling cheese over fresh pizza dough on kitchen table

Drag One Through Wisconsin

Drag anything through Wisconsin and it’s bound to pick up some of this ingredient—cheese! (See our top Wisco recipes here.) Wisconsin isn’t the only place your diner is dragging things—”drag one through the garden” means putting all the condiments on it, and “drag one through Georgia” is a weird phrase for the even weirder beverage: cola with chocolate syrup.

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Elephant Dandruff

Somebody searched high and low for the least appetizing way to describe corn flakes, and they sure found it! But if you’re still keen on corn flakes, you’ll want to order it with “baby juice,” a.k.a. milk. Next up: Here are the weirdest food laws from every state.

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Breakfast scrambled eggs and tomato slices on bread
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Adam and Eve On a Raft

This is possibly one of the better-known diner terms, referring to two eggs on toast. But the dynamic duo inspired a whole slew of breakfast terms, like “Adam and Eve on a log” for eggs and sausage, or “Adam and Eve on a raft and wreck ’em” for scrambled eggs and toast. Poor Adam and Eve, what a precarious lifestyle! Order up these eggy breakfasts at home.

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Ice chocolate with whipped cream on table

Twist It, Choke It, and Make It Cackle

Wow! Diners sure are violent! Don’t be afraid, your server is just ordering a chocolate malt with an egg. Although the term does serve as an excellent warning to any would-be dine-and-dashers. Psst! Learn why you should be adding an egg to your coffee, too.

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close-up of delicious veal liver pieces stir fried and stewed with onion rings in a skillet
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Put the Lights Out and Cry

Maybe the chef is asking for a little privacy while they express some emotional vulnerability, maybe you just ordered liver and onions. (Liver is tastier than you’d think!) Onions often get a bad rap in diner lingo—”make it cry” is another way to get something topped with onions, and “chewed with fine breath” is hamburger and onions. How…appetizing.

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English breakfast with grilled ham, fried egg and french fries.

Noah’s Boy

Who knew your piece of sliced ham was directly related to the biblical patriarch himself!? Diners love some good wordplay, and the association between Noah’s son Ham and your choice of protein is just too good to pass up. Be sure to save your leftovers for these tasty recipes.

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Savory Homemade Corned Beef Hash in a Pan
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In the Alley

Any side dish you order in a diner comes “in the alley,” unless you’re ordering hash, which is “mystery in the alley.” Hash has a whole host of other nicknames, all equally terrifying, from “kitchen sweepings” to “the customer will take their chance.” You won’t regret this 5-star breakfast hash.

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closeup woman drinking ice cola in the glass.
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Stretch One and Paint It Red

More violence?! No, it’s just another way to ask for a coke with cherry syrup. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, Coca-Cola used to sell “stretched” bottles of their soda, which were over a foot tall.

Do you collect vintage kitchen items? They might be worth a lot more than you think.

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A retro style menu written with chalk on a blackboard
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Blue Plate Special

Most diners will have a daily special meal called the “Blue Plate Special,” available at a lower price. Legend has it that this meal got its name from plates sold during The Depression, which had separate compartments for different foods and were only available in the color blue. Check out these Depression-era recipes worth trying today.

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Tuna salad sandwitch with lamb's lettuce and radishes
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“Radio” refers to a tuna sandwich, since tuna on toast gets called out as “tuna down,” which sounds like “turn it down,” a phrase often shouted when someone is playing the radio too loud in the kitchen. It’s basically like the game “Telephone!” Or…”Radio”… These healthy tuna recipes will perk you right up.

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Grilled bacon wrapped peach
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Angels on Horseback

Sure, you could just call them bacon-wrapped oysters, but that’s not nearly as fun. Feeling naughty? Bacon-wrapped fruit is referred to as Devils on Horseback. Eat both and enjoy the apocalypse inside your very own stomach! Here are 23 delicious recipes that prove you should be an advocate for bacon-wrapped everything.

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Homemade pie with cheese and apples, cup of tea and fork on white wooden table

Eve with a Moldy Lid

Shake off that shudder, this is actually a very tasty treat—apple pie topped with cheese. What?! You’ve never had cheese-topped pie? Pie and cheese have been a common pairing for centuries—since 160 B.C. to be exact—while ice cream on top of pie only appeared more recently, starting in the Midwest during the mid-1800s.

Not totally sold? Baby steps! Try out this beginner’s pie and cheese, an apple pie with a delicious cheddar crust.

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Close up Gourmet Main Dish with Grilled Pork Rib and Fried Potatoes on White Plate.

First Lady

Wow, Eve is really making a name for herself in diner lingo. A sly reference to Eve’s purported creation from Adam’s extra rib, this does indeed refer to—you guessed it—spare ribs. Add our best rib recipes to your BBQ bucket list.

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Boiled eggs
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Drown the Kids

Yikes. Sometimes diner terms have a dark side. Even if the phrase is just a way to tell the chef to boil the eggs, still gonna back away from this one…very…slowly…

We found the hands-down BEST way to hard-boil eggs.

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Meatballs in tomato sauce and fresh basil with spaghetti on a white background

Foreign Entanglements

Who knew a plate of spaghetti would require so much diplomacy? However, if you’re ordering it with meatballs, you’ll want to get the “lead pipes with rounded cows.”

Ready to try your hand at homemade pasta?

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Hot dog

Paint a Bow-Wow Red

If you want a hot dog with ketchup, then you want to “paint a bow-wow red,” and with sauerkraut is a “bloodhound in the hay.” But if you’re ordering it with mustard, you want that “baby sauce.” Baby sauce and relish? “Mickey Rooney.” “Mickey Rooney” no relish? “Cut the grass.” So on, so forth. Here are 20 ways to make hot dogs more fun.

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Ice in Glass

Bucket of Hail

Order a glass of ice, get a bucket of hail. Hey, at least it’s all-natural and straight from the source. But if you want water, well then my friend you’re gonna need that “city water.” Love eating out? Here’s the most popular fast food restaurant the year you were born.

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Male hands putting take-out food container into paper bag, close-up.
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Give It Shoes

Alternatively “Go for a walk,” this is the call-out to make your order to-go. Although, you might want to give your food a good sniff before you eat it to make sure the cook didn’t miss the metaphor. Here are a few habits that fast food workers secretly dislike. Are you guilty of any?

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Happy couple having milkshake in restaurant

In the Hay

Another little gem of some darn good wordplay. You ordered the strawberry milkshake, ergo strawberry to straw, straw to hay. Tah-dah!

Craving a milkshake? Check out the best places to get a milkshake across the U.S.

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Cup of coffee with cream and coffee beans on wooden background
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Blonde with Sand

Sure you could order a coffee with cream and sugar, but you’ll be way cooler if you order a blonde with sand. Unless your server has never heard of diner lingo, in which case this is awkward and I’m sorry. Don’t miss the 12 mistakes everyone makes when brewing coffee.

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Coffee break
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Sinkers and Suds

Unsurprisingly, diner lingo is full of terms for the absolute diner staple: coffee. “Sinkers and suds” is a cutsie term for doughnuts and coffee, although you can order the coffee alone as a “belly warmer.” Find the best doughnut shop in your state.

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Glass salt and pepper shakers on table in restaurant

The Twins

If you need to season up for your food, you’ll need to ask for The Twins: salt and pepper, of course! Thinking a little more garlic? That’ll be the Bronx Vanilla.

Love garlic but hate the lingering smell on your fingers? This simple trick will keep your food flavorful, not your hands.

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Tuna salad with tomatoes, black olives, rice, feta cheesse and greens on rustic wooden background with copy space
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Olives on anything are called warts in Dinerland. But despite their wacky name, ol-love them, warts and all.

Here are 14 recipes that’ll help you use up that extra jar of olives.