Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Diner Lingo by Guest Author Camille Minichino


Please welcome guest author and good buddy, Camille Minichino. Camille authors several cozy mystery series under a variety of pseudonyms. Mousse and Murder is the first book in her most recent series, the Alaskan Diner Mysteries, written under the pen name of Elizabeth Logan. Camille notes that her idea of a gourmet dinner is a grilled cheese, fries, and a shake. (That’s a Jack Benny, frog sticks, and one in the hay.)
For more information, check out her website at minichino.com.  
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Who invented the battery?

A middle school science student would probably raise her hand and answer, “Volta!” maybe laughing at the confluence of the name and the unit of electromotive force. And for all practical purposes, she would be correct. It’s too cumbersome to go back to the Parthian Empire of 2000 years ago, and what’s known as the Baghdad battery. It’s beyond our grasp to name all the giants of engineering, ancient and modern, who brought us to where we are now, so we summarize and attribute the battery to Volta.

 I run up against this wall whenever I try to find the beginning—of a battery, of a revolution, even of something as large and concrete as a diner.

 The best I can do is go back to 1872 and credit Walter Scott, a horse-drawn wagon in Providence, Rhode Island, and a menu designed to feed night owls, whether workers finishing the late shift, or revelers looking for an off-hours meal.

The wagon evolved into “rolling restaurants,” with a few seats added inside, and then dining cars and finally, around 1924, permanently located “diners,” most maintaining the train-car look.



With a new style of restaurant came a new set of phrases, or “diner lingo,” the way a short order cook might communicate with her staff. Some call it shorthand, but diner lingo is often longer than the regular term for the menu item.

“A side of bad breath,” for example is not as succinct as “with onions.” And “a stack of Vermont” is longer than “pancakes.”

My guess: it’s more for adding fun to a job. Who doesn’t want to do that?

Probably among the best known call-outs are “Adam and Eve on a raft” (two eggs on toast) and “Battle Creek in a bowl” (corn flakes).

Other favorites of mine are:
  • “Burn the British” (toast an English muffin)
  •  “Cowboy” (western omelet)
  • “Cops and robbers” (coffee and donuts)
  • “In the alley” (on the side)
  • “Butcher’s revenge” (meatloaf)

A few phrases have been assimilated into our language, no longer recognized as diner-related, like sunny side up, BLT, OJ, and 86 it.

Post your favorites. But whatever you do, don’t be a camper*!

*One who stays at the table or counter for a long time, depriving the server of new tips.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Wednesday's Random Not-Quite-Slang O-rama: 1800s telephone etiquette


Taking a little different tack on today's posting with a peek into recent research and my findings and frustrations.

What do you say when you greet someone over the phone? It's probably some version of "Hello." I'm betting it's not "Ahoy!" However, if Alexander Graham Bell had had his way, that might indeed be what you'd holler down the (wireless) line....

Ring-a-ding-ding, 19th century-style.
Image by Momentmal from Pixabay

One recent night as the midnight hour struck, I became a little over-obsessed over how phone calls were handled in the 19th century. (Late at night is never a good time for me to get obsessed.) I stumbled upon an NPR article explaining that whereas Bell preferred the term Ahoy! as a telephonic greeting, Thomas Edison preferred Hello! (We know who won that tug-of-war.) This passage also caught my late-night attention:
... [T]he first phone book ever published, by the District Telephone Company of New Haven, Connecticut, in 1878 (with 50 subscribers listed) told users to begin their conversations with "a firm and cheery 'hulloa.'"
I knew there was a telephone exchange in Leadville, Colorado, in 1879, thanks to Leadville silver baron Horace Tabor. (In fact, there's a wonderful article in Colorado Magazine, dated 1928, talking about the early years of telephone, right here.) And San Francisco apparently had its first telephone directory in 1878. 

Wouldn't it be wonderful, thinks I, if I could find a digital copy of that early San Francisco phone book and read their instructions on telephone etiquette and how to use a telephone??

The minutes ticked by as I buzzed around the internet, looking for such a directory. Alas, all I could dig up was a version that had been typed up from the original in 1952. This transcribed version only included names and addresses and the cryptic note: 
Names preceded by stars are connected with the CENTRAL OFFICE SYSTEM and can be switched into private connection with each other.
I finally uncovered a text version of the 1893 San Francisco Telephone Directory, which although much later in time than my 1882 setting, includes this fascinating information on page 2:
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REMARKS FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE SERVICE. 
"HERE'S 64."  
At least half the time consumed in every telephone connection, is used in ascertaining who is talking at each end. If subscribers will adopt the following style, they will be surprised at the saving of time and annoyance to themselves 
Suppose Smith's Telephone number is 741 and he desires to converse with Jones, whose telephone number is 64. 
FIRST: Smith calls Central Office and says: "741 wants 64" and waits, with telephone at his ear. SECOND: Central Office rings Jones' Bell.
THIRD: Jones rings his bell once in reply and without waiting further, says, "here's 64, Mr. Jones;"
FOURTH: Smith then says, "this is Mr. Smith," and proceeds with his conversation.
 
"SUNSET" 
The lines connecting San Francisco with the interior towns are owned by the SUNSET TELEPHONE AND TELEGRAPH CO. If subscribers will kindly observe the following Instructions, they will receive quicker and more satisfying service:
1.--When you wish to connect with any interior town, call the local Exchange as usual.

2.--Operator: "What is it, please?"

2.--Subscriber: "Sunset room."
(Central office then connects the Sunset room and--)
3.--Operator: "Here's the Sunset;"

3.--Subscriber: "Give me No. 42 Oakland;"

4.--Operator: "Who is talking, please?"

4.--Subscriber: "Mr. Jones."

5.--Operator: "Whom shall we ask for, please?'

5.--Subscriber: (The subscriber will now name the person with whom he particularly desires to converse, or tell the operator to call up "Anybody".)

Then hang up your telephone: your order is now fully understood and when we ring your bell again, we will have Mr. Brown at Oakland, he will know it is Mr. Jones at telephone No. 46, San Francisco wants him, and both will be saved a lot of preliminary "hello,"  "Is that Mr. Jones," "Who are you," etc., etc.
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There it is, in the very last paragraph: the word "hello."

Of course, this is from 1893, and since my current work-in-progress has a bit of a nautical flavor, you can bet your bottom dollar I'm going to find a way to slip in an "Ahoy!" here and there.

I also have a little more direction as to what might be said and heard as my protagonist Inez  Stannert attempts to eavesdrop on a telephone conversation in the next room in 1882 San Francisco....
"Ahoy there, sailor...."
Les bienfaits du téléphone Abeillé, Jack , Dessinateur Entre 1904 et 1912 20e siècle Petit Palais, musée des Beaux-arts de la Ville de Paris PPD4790 CC0








Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Zounderkite


Here is an vintage word that is perfect for our times: zounderkite.

Any ideas as to what it means?

Go ahead, guess! (No fair peeking on Google.) And then, keep reading to see if you are right...

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According to the Dictionary.com article Insults We Should Bring Back, zounderkite is a Victorian word meaning "idiot." It shows up in many lists of vintage curse words, including 22 Incredible Forgotten Curse Words from Way Back in the Day (which expands on the simple one-word definition with: "a complete idiot who constantly makes clumsy and awkward mistakes"), and BBC America's 10 Victorian Swears from the Real "Ripper Street" (which goes whole hog: "the kind of bumbling idiot that will end up making a disastrous mistake of the sort that beggars belief").

BBC America provided a source, which was a good thing, because this word did not appear in any of my hard copy dictionaries, including Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary. However, their source—1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue—does not contain zounderkite.

What do they take me for, an idiot? That I would not check the source?

I turned to N-gram, thinking surely it would show up there. Nope. Nothing.

Determined, I delved a little further into Google Books, hoping to find a 19th century mention. I finally found it, I'm proud to say, in the 1876 A Glossary of Surrey Words (A Supplement to No. 12.) by Granville William Gresham Leveson Gower, in the Mid-Yorkshire section, where it appears between zookerins! and zounds! 
There it is! Proof, at last!

I think the scarcity of zounderkite in books in general might mean it was a word more spoken than written, at least in the past.

My thrashing about also turned up a Zounderkite family of fonts.
One just never knows what will turn up during Slang-o-rama research.









Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Sail close to the wind


Those of you who are nautically inclined will no doubt know the origins and meaning of the phrase sail close to the wind, and why it has an air of danger about its definition. However, I do not, and since I'm mucking around with bits of maritime history as I trudge along drafting book #8 of the Silver Rush series, it seemed time to look this one up...
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The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer summarizes as follows:
sail close to the wind: Be on the verge of doing something illegal or improper, as in "She was sailing pretty close to the wind when she called him a liar." This term alludes to the danger incurred when literally sailing too close to (that is, in the direction of) the wind. Its figurative use dates from the first half of the 1800s.
Well, that's pretty cool! And I rather like the sample sentence. There are all kinds of folks my protagonist Inez could accuse of sailing close to the wind in my current work-in-progess. In fact, she could be probably be accused of the same.

There is a little more back'n forth about the phrase over at The Phrase Finder, to wit:
This is a true sailing expression. Sail boats have different characteristics, but all need wind. Some can harvest the wind better than others. If you sail close to the edge of direction that the wind is coming from you may well lose the wind altogether, but you may be able to make better progress than a boat that can't sail as well in such a difficult situation. Thus, if you can 'sail close to the wind' then you can benefit, but you enter a risky area and may lose all!
I looked around a bit more, but that was about all I could find that shed light on this particular phrase. At least, the timing gives me license to let my characters sail close to the wind—in some cases, with disastrous results.

Sailed too close to the wind? Or a reef?...
Shipwreck by Ivan Aivazovsky, 1854

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

LAST CHANCE! $1.99 for Silver Lies, all April

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Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Pish-posh


Now here's a great expression I used in A DYING NOTE and that I'm itching to use again: pish-posh. Or, if you prefer: pish-tosh.

Nice eh? Of course, the expression isn't nice or complimentary.
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According to my copy of Green's Dictionary of Slang, pish-posh is an interjection that confers the same expression of disdain as saying (contemptuously), "Rubbish!" or "Nonsense!"

The Word Detective has a nice post about this alliterative exclamation, noting:
“Pish posh” actually appears to have two sources. “Pish” by itself has been used as an interjection of impatience or contempt since the 16th century, and, like “pshaw” and “pah,” it arose as an imitation of the sound of disgusted surprise (“‘Pish!’ I growled. ‘Someone has fooled you,'” 1894). The “posh” part of “pish posh” is what linguists call “reduplication,” the repetition of a word with slight variation as a means of emphasis or elaboration (as in “hoity-toity”).
I gulped a little seeing the date 1894. Surely pish-posh was used before then?


Down the rabbit hole I go...

Pish-posh. Don't pay him any mind.
Our time will come.

Image by Oberholster Venita from Pixabay

Votes for women? Pish-posh, that's what I say.
Image by Jo-B from Pixabay 
I found the phrase pish! posh! and pshaw! in a novel from 1862 titled Spurs and Skirts by Allet (a pseudonym). From the title, I thought this might be an adventure set in the American West. However the book opens in Edinburgh, Scotland, so I guess not!

In any case, pish-posh has a nice ring to it, and I'm sure I'll find the proper place for it to reappear in my current endeavor.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Out of kilter


Now here's a phrase for these crazy days: out of kilter.

How perfect, right?

I think of it as a feeling of coming apart at the seams in a messy way, very much like the YouTube video of a washing machine going to pieces at the end of this post. (You really need to watch this video.)

However, I have no idea what a kilter is, and how this phrase came about.

Do you?
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If you're as clueless as I am, keep reading.

The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer provides a definition, an alternate phrase, and a shrug:
out of kilter. Also, out of whack. No properly adjusted, not working well, out of order. The first term, also spelled kelter, dates from the early 1600s and its origin is not known. The precise allusion of the variant, a colloquial term dating from the late 1800s, is also unclear. Possibly it relates to a whack, or blow, throwing something off, or some suggest, to wacky, that is, "crazy."
At least the Online Etymological Dictionary provides a definition of kelter to help us along:
"order, good condition," in out of kilter (1620s), apparently a variant of English dialectal kelter (c. 1600) "good condition, order," a word of unknown origin.
The Phrase Finder agrees that it is a variant of an older English dialect word kelter, meaning good health; good condition. He then adds:
In 1643, the English Protestant theologian Roger Williams travelled to America and made a study of Native American languages, especially Narragansett, an Algonquian language. He subsequently published A Key Into the Language of America, which was a glossary of the language he had heard, which included this comment: "Their Gunnes they [native Americans] often sell many a score to the English, when they are a little out of frame or Kelter."


... This is seriously out of kilter.