Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Mike and Ike

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 29, 2016

Nostalgia is big, and over the last few years, this nostalgia has included diners in the style of the 1930s through to the 1960s.  Mike and Ike is lunch counter slang for salt and pepper shakers, and while you may not hear it used often these days, when it is used, it brings with it all the nostalgia of days gone by when diners were the rage.  In fact, Idiomation hadn’t considered researching Mike and Ike until Howard and Suzie at The Diner in Sevierville (TN) mentioned it on The Diner’s Facebook page.

the-diner_idiomation_image-1

As fast food restaurants moved in on diner territory, the need for calling orders eliminated the need for diner lingo until most of it either disappeared from modern usage or made a place for itself in modern language.  But while diners were in vogue, the lingo amused both the cook and the customers, so waitresses made the most of it.

Diner lingo got its start in the early 1930s.  It’s where the terms OJ for orange juice and BLT for a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich originate.   Over easy, sunny side up, hash browns, and mayo also made the successful jump from diner lingo to mainstream dialogue.  In other words, lots of diner lingo from back then has survived to be part of mainstream conversation today.  But where did Mike and Ike get their start?

On September 29, 1907 American cartoonist Rube Goldberg saw his cartoon strip “Mike and Ike (They Look Alike)” published in the newspaper, and the public immediately took to the antics of the two characters.  As the cartoon evolved, so did the publication of the “Mike and Ike (They Look Alike)” cartoons.

mike-and-ike

Just like the salt and pepper shakers found on tables at diners, the characters Mike and Ike were always side by side in their exploits.  By the 1930s, Mike and Ike was firmly entrenched as the lingo for salt and pepper shakers, and in 1936, the American Dialect Society noted the idiom and its definition on page 44 of Volume 11 that year.

The expression also appeared in the book, “Salads and Herbs” compiled by Cora Lovisa Brackett Brown (3 January 1861 – 1939), Rose Johnston Brown (1883 – 1952), and Robert Carlton “Bob” Brown II (14 June 1886 – 7 August  1959), and published in 1938 by J.B. Lippincott Company.  The book was packed with heirloom recipes for salads and herbs (of course), as well as seasoning, flowers, berries, herbal teas and vinegards, and wild herbs.  On page 125 of this book, the author wrote:

Salt and pepper shakers are dubbed “the twins” and affectionately referred to as “Mike and Ike.”

salads-and-herbs

The term has fallen into disuse over the last few decades, but should you ever find yourself having a meal at a diner that’s still uses diner lingo to spice up the atmosphere, you’ll be in the know when you check to see if Mike and Ike can be found at your table.  The idiom dates back to the early 1930s but wouldn’t it be fun for you and a friend to order Adam and Eve on a raft, drop one on the brown, and a pair of drawers the next time you’re eating at a local diner?

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