Hash house lingo

Odd – often humorous – names for simple restaurant orders were long associated with cheap eating places such as hash houses, beaneries, and lunch wagons. In addition to inexpensive food, patrons got free entertainment, while newspaper reporters never ran out of light copy.

In cheap restaurants it was customary through much of the 19th century and early in the 20th for servers to convey orders to the kitchen by shouting them out from the dining area. It’s highly likely that many, maybe most, of the servers as well as the cooks, were unable to read and write.

The colorful stories began to fill papers’ pages in the 1880s. In 1881 U.S. President Chester Arthur was reported to have visited a “coffee and cake saloon” in lower Manhattan – probably Hitchcock’s — where waiters shouted out his order of coffee and rare corned beef to the kitchen in slang.

Judging by how often it was repeated in the press, the public was endlessly amused by the tale of the clever Bowery hash house waiter who bested the patron who tried to confuse him by asking for two poached eggs on toast by adding that he wanted the yolks broken. Without a pause, the waiter shouted out “Adam and Eve on a raft. Wreck ‘em.”

Eggs merited the most jargon of all foods, probably because there are so many ways of preparing them. Two terms remain in almost universal use today and are so commonly used that probably no one suspects they were once regarded as unfamiliar waiter slang. I’m sure you will spot them easily in the list of egg orders.

Many of these terms make no sense at all, and some have more than one reference. Why were they used? Clearly they are not necessarily shorter or easier to yell than if they were straightforward. According to the 1945 article Soda Fountain Lingo, “An exclusive language – racy, picturesque, humorous – understood only by the initiate, adds zest to the monotony. Further, it lends pride to the job and provides an esprit de corps. It gives incentive to the new waiter, mystifies the general public, and furnishes satisfaction to the enlightened professional hasher.”

Eggs
Ham and eggs – Kansas City chicken and Adam and Eve
Scrambled eggs — Adam and Eve shipwrecked; Agitated eggs; Storm tossed eggs; Eggs around the curve; Wreck Noah
Scrambled eggs with chili sauce – Ship wreck in the Red sea
Scrambled eggs on toast – Wreck on a raft
Fried eggs unturned — With eyes open; Sunny side up; Straight up; Two white wings turned down
Fried eggs turned over – In the dark; With a black eye; Over easy; Eyes closed
Fried eggs scalded in hot grease — Blindfold two
Poached eggs – Sleeve buttons
Poached eggs on toast – Two ladies on horseback; Adam and Eve on a raft
Soft boiled eggs – A light on the ocean wave; In the sea/ocean
Hard boiled eggs – A light under the waves; Two in the water like a brick

Meat/fish/main dishes
Dozen oysters stewed plain — Drown a dozen
Dozen oysters in the loaf — One in the coffin
Oyster stew – Two in a bowl; Stew-o-o-oo
Chicken stew — Springer in the mud
Corned beef hash – Brownstone front (can also refer to pancakes); Mystery
Wienerwurst and sauerkraut — A Dutchman’s paradise
Ham and beans – Ham an’
Beef and beans – Beef an’
Beans – Plate of Bostons; Thousand on a plate
Baked beans without the pork — Brass band without the leader
Beefsteak – Patent leather; One sole without a shoe
Mutton chops – Whiskers
Codfish ball – Sinker (also refers to doughnuts and to pancakes)
Spring chicken on toast and boiled potatoes — Foul tip and a hot grounder
Fried catfish (quickly) — Railroad a hot swimmer

Other
Macaroni — A son of Italy; Put up the flag
Buttered toast — Butter the gash
Pancakes — Brownstone front; Brown the wheats; String o’ flats; Stack ‘em up
Pancakes and coffee – Bootleg and sinkers
Buckwheat cakes – Brown the buck
Hot biscuit — Order of the boat heels
Doughnuts – Sinkers; Life preservers; Fried holes
Shredded wheat biscuits and a glass of milk – Couple o’ bales of hay & squeeze the cow
Milk toast – Cemetery stew
Chicken soup – Hen in the bowl
Slice of watermelon — The Red Man
Mince pie with powdered sugar on top — Indigestion in a snowstorm
Pie a la mode – Freeze out; Snow on the open face
No gravy – Make it dry
Keep it hot – In a hot box

Beverages
Hot tea — Cup of China; On the Chinaman
Tea without milk – Hong Kong on crutches
Iced tea — One in the mountains
Cup of coffee — One in the dark; Draw one
Glass of milk — One in the light; Squeeze the cow
Ice water – One Arctic

Customers often contributed to the lingo by inventing their own, both for ordering and asking someone to pass something.
Pass the sugar – Give the sand box a kick down this way
Request for butter – Pass the dope
Milk – Drive the cow down this way
Beans and molasses – Short and sweet
Fried pigs’ feet – A Trilby foot [Trilby was a popular 1894 novel about an artist’s model with beautiful feet]
Coffee and doughnuts – Slop and sinkers
Sandwich with a liberal allowance of ham – One boxing glove with plenty of lining

Hash house lingo died a slow death in the 20th century with the arrival of automated eating places, cafeterias, and other serve-yourself places, and was pretty much gone by the 1930s. It has been artificially revived here and there as a novelty attraction, the former Ed Debevics diners being a prime example.

© Jan Whitaker, 2021

11 Comments

Filed under atmosphere, food, patrons, restaurant customs, waiters/waitresses/servers

11 responses to “Hash house lingo

  1. eileen massi

    very interesting and likewise very enjoyable — this is the older old school and i love it!!!!

  2. Dan

    There was an episode of “I Love Lucy” entitled “The Diner” (S3 E27), where the Ricardos and the Mertzes decide to buy a diner together. Fred and Ethel (who supposedly have experience in this area) teach Lucy and Ricky some hash house lingo (I clearly recall Fred explaining “Adam and Eve on a raft, wreck ’em!”). The two couples have a fight, Fred and Ethel walk out, and Lucy and Ricky have to run the diner. They, of course, end up mangling all the lingo and messing up the orders. The episode originally aired in 1954, by which point it was nostalgia for middle-aged and older adults who remembered hearing it as children.

  3. Dave

    Actually, the tradition continues at Wafflehouse and Huddlehouse restaurants, that I have stopped in. No idea what they say at times. Example: Well done hashbrowns – Browns Flake; Browns Scattered Well

  4. Sandra Hunter

    So glad the lingo change… I would starve ordering these days……lol

  5. Janet

    In 1970 I worked with a man whose job took him to small towns around our the state. He always came back with a funny story after making his rounds. After one trip, he told about ordering a hamburger with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, and mayo. I can’t remember what he said the waitress called the hamburger, but she yelled to the cook to “rake it through the garden and make it white.” I thought that was funny.

  6. Leslie

    I remember an episode of Designing Women where some of them worked in a diner to help out, and Julia was calling out orders in “hash house lingo.” It was hilarious.

  7. How do I register…and stay signed in.
    Every time I receive your article read it… I comment… and then have to reenter and comment once again then log in… again???

    • I sent your question to WordPress and here is the answer I got: “There’s not much you can do on your end, but you could try reaching out to them and seeing if they can contact WordPress.com support to see if we could help them directly.”
      Hope they can be helpful because it sounds quite annoying.

  8. Very good…always very interesting…and always wonder how you reasearch your subject…
    …this is almost like cockney…
    Tom

  9. I hadn’t heard of most of these. So creative!

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