Dr. Gerald Cohen, professor of foreign languages at the University of Missouri-Rolla, has added eatery slang to his plate of expertise with the publication of his new book, “Studies in Slang VII.”
The book, co-authored and edited with word sleuth Barry Popik, consists of 24 articles that treat a range of U.S. slang, covering everything from “hashhouse” lingo to the origin of Chicago’s nickname as “The Windy City.”
Cohen’s favorite topic in the book is hashhouse lingo, the hundreds of creative and irreverent terms once used in low eateries. They include “Adam and Eve on a raft” (poached eggs on toast), “frogged up Murphies” (French fried potatoes), “Noah’s boy” (ham), and “burn the British” (toast an English muffin). The customers ordered in plain English, and the waiters shouted the orders to the cook in their special lingo, Cohen explains.
Although he mainly teaches German at UMR, Cohen’s field of research is etymology (the study of word origins). His interest in British and U.S. slang began 25 years ago.
“British and U.S. slang etymology is a huge and highly interesting area, and it doesn’t get nearly the attention from scholars that it deserves,” Cohen says.
Other items included in the 194-page book are “cakewalk,” which was originally a marriage ceremony among French blacks in Louisiana, and “hair of the dog that bit you,” which refers to a practice of rubbing hair of the dog that bit you into the bite wound in the belief that this helps the wound heal. Also found in the book is how radio operators once used the term “lid” and Morse code “TL” to insult other radio operators with a heavy hand. Both terms derive from “toilet lid.”
In addition, the book details the origins of what Cohen calls a corny joke about “applesauce,” which gave the term a derogatory meaning.
“It was told very often, usually in a vaudeville context, and involved some excess verbiage,” Cohen explains. “Here’s the gist: A teacher has 12 pupils and only 11 apples. She wants to give each pupil an equal share of the apples without cutting them. How does she do it? She makes applesauce. The joke was told so often it was eventually greeted with groans.”
Cohen calls his co-author an extraordinary independent scholar who has found obscure but important material, including an 1875 Cincinnati newspaper that is the origin of Chicago’s nickname. Cohen and Popik, along with the late David Shulman, are also the authors of the 300-page book, “Origin of the Term ‘Hot Dog.’”
Cohen aims for his book to be scholarly and hopes it winds up in various libraries so the public will have ready access to it. He published the book himself and is offering 150 for sale. Cost of the book, which includes postage and handling, is $30. Anyone interested may write to him care of the Department of Arts, Languages, and Philosophy, University of Missouri-Rolla, Rolla, MO 65409. He may also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.