Lunch lady

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Fri Sep 21 18:50:39 UTC 2007

On 9/21/07, Scot LaFaive <spiderrmonkey at> wrote:
> Looks like a finally lost access to the OED thru my school. Shouldn't have
> graduated. So can anyone tell me if "lunch lady" is in the OED and when the
> earliest citation is?

It's not yet in OED. A quick check of the databases only takes it back to 1972:

1972 _New York Times_ 14 May (New Jersey) 105/1 Something should be
done about the food at Churchill Junior High School [East Brunswick,
NJ]. The lunch ladies do not wear nets and me and my friends have
found pieces of hair in our food.

I would've guessed earlier, since it was a very common term when I was
in school, but then again I grew up in NJ in the '70s. It was
apparently preceded by "lunchroom lady":

1967 _Chicago Tribune_ 5 Nov. V8/4 Having just returned to full-time
office work after being a "lunch room mother" for three years, I find
that I seldom pass a noon time without thinking wistfully of those
busy and satisfying school day lunches. ... I miss the whispering to
their mothers when we chanced to meet, "That's one the lunch room
1971 _Oakland Tribune_ 27 June (Parade) 23/1 Pass the lunchroom, see
the familiar lunchroom lady with the white dress and net on her hair.

And "lunchroom mother" is much earlier:

1925 _Atlanta Constitution_ 20 Dec. 7/6 The lunch room mothers will
please keep the same days assigned them at the beginning of the term.

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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