Blue plate special

Michael Quinion TheEditor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG
Sat Sep 21 16:24:41 UTC 2002

Fred Shapiro's message today was timely, as rather a lot of people
have suddenly started to ask me where the phrase comes from (is it in
a quiz somewhere this week, or what?).

The questions pose some difficulties, because it's astonishing the
number of reference books I've consulted today that don't mention it.
(And there doesn't seem to be anything about it in the ADS-L archives
apart from recent ante-datings.)

My understanding is that it was an inexpensive set meal, a sort of
"plat du jour", served on a blue plate divided into sections for each
part of the meal. Roughly (without the blue plate) what was once
called a "shilling ordinary" in Britain. Am I right?

Any supporting information would be helpful in aiding me to fill a
couple of hundred words of deathless prose!

Michael Quinion
Editor, World Wide Words
E-mail: <TheEditor at>
Web: <>

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