Carnegie Deli book (2005) and deli slang

Michael McKernan mckernan at LOCALNET.COM
Thu Jan 13 01:39:00 UTC 2005

Barry Popik wrote:

>by Milton Parker (Owner of the Carnegie Deli)
>and Allyn Freeman

While there may only be a tiny bit of deli dialect in this book, I assume
(and hope that ADS-L has discussed deli and short-order language in detail.
Where else could we find a better test case for examining our assumptions
about jargon, dialect, etc.?

I have nothing except encouragment and an anecdote to offer:

I first encountered short-order jargon at 'The Waffle Shop', an all-night
diner-like establishment fairly high up Wisconsin Avenue in Washington,
D.C., where I was a hopelessly naive undergraduate at Georgetown University
in the early 1970s.  Adrift in an anomic world, I often found myself eating
waffles there at any hour of day or night (when I could cadge a ride that
far, and had enought cash for a short stack.)  The waffle irons, as far as
I could tell, had never been cleaned, and bore countless layers of spilled
batter outside their upright halves, but the waffles came out impeccably
solid, ready for customer-added fats and sugars.

What I noticed there, more than the batter strata going back to primordial
times, was that my order, whatever it was, expressed however precisely in
the language of the menu card, was instantaneously translated into a
language which, while it resembled English, and used only English words,
syntax, etc., was beyond my immediate comprehension.  It was enough to make
even lame-brain, disenchanted me pay a little attention:  there was
something very special going on there, language-wise.  With my typical
laziness, I of course merely noted the wonder of it all, and relapsed to my
usual passivity, at least until my order arrived.

But to this day, I want to learn that language, how it came to be, how it
was learned by new workers, and so on.  Were there enough people in the
workforce who knew this language that they didn't have to hire the
ignorant?  Or did the cooks actually understand the 'standard English' of
the menu, but disdain to respond to it?  I did manage to observe that one
side of the communication-interaction, the cooks, were all male, beefy guys
with multiple tatoos, which led me to hypothesize that they were _all_
ex-Navy/Marine cooks, and I supposed that at least some of the lingo had
come from their military service.  The other side of the interaction, the
middle-women, the interpreters, were all women 'of a certain age' (i.e.,
none as young as me, then about 20), yet able to speak both my language,
and the short-order language of the cooks.

This bi-lingualism would, I suppose, be considered by some to be rather
limited, restricted to dealing with menu items, etc.  But I wonder about
that.  Were there other aspects, hidden from customers?  Maybe they were
saying things like this 'expletive changed to the unrecognizable' thinks he
wants a couple of waffles.  Burn 'em or pull 'em out raw, he's being a pain
in the ...'  Or whatever.  As far as I knew, they could be telling the
cooks anything at all (but it had to include my order, since I always got
the right stuff, more or less.

Lazy, (as I say) me, about the only thing I seem to remember from back then
was that a 'side' meant french fries.  But I could be wrong about that.
French fries don't really 'go' with waffles, do they?  (They did serve all
manner of short-order.)

Hoping you'll talk this one to death, and manage to decrease my ignorance
at least a little,

Michael McKernan

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