Cheese, Glorious Cheese Idioms! Happy National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day

"Grilled Cheese Olympics," Make Male (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Ooey, gooey, and oh so delicious: the grilled cheese sandwich. Every April 12 celebrates this delectable dish, and just thinking about it makes us hungry. But it also gets us wondering about cheese-filled words and idioms. Today we sink our teeth into the language of cheese sayings.

Some really old cheese

The word cheese is an old one, dating all the way back to the 13th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Its etymology is long and winding: in a nutshell, it ultimately comes form the Latin caseus, meaning, you guessed it, “cheese.”

Some simple Scottish word fare

Cheese and bread (sometimes bread and cheese) is an old Scottish phrase that refers to plain and simple food, says the OED, or food that’s needed for subsistence. Its earliest citation is from about 1530 while bread and cheese was first spotted in written form in Shakespeare’s 1602 play, The Merry Wives of Windsor: “I love not the humour of bread and cheese.”

Cheese it, the cops!

Meaning to stop, hide, or flee, cheese it could be thieves’ cant. The OED cites 1811 as the earliest recorded usage although it was likely in use long before then. While its origin is unknown, one theory says that it could be a corruption of cease.

As for the phrase, “Cheese it, the cops!” World Wide Words says an early version appears in O. Henry’s 1908 story, “The Voice of the City”: “The defence of Mr Conover was so prompt and admirable that the conflict was protracted until the onlookers unselfishly gave the warning cry of ‘Cheese it — the cop!’”

This cheese spins you right round, baby

So what do you do to amuse yourself when you’re a schoolgirl in 1835? You make cheeses of course. To make or perform a cheese was the act of spinning to flare out one’s petticoats, then landing on the ground with petticoats spread like a wheel of cheese. The phrase would also come mean “to curtsy deeply.”

That’s the cheese!

The cheese is an old British slang term for “the correct or proper thing; the finished or perfect thing,” says Century Dictionary. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it comes from the Urdu word chiz, meaning “a thing,” and was “picked up by British in India by 1818 and used in the sense of ‘a big thing’ (especially in the phrase the real chiz).”

We’re in the cheese

Slang for money, this sense of cheese first appears in 1850, says the OED, which contradicts the popular theory that the meaning came about at the end of World War II when Americans received a big piece of cheese as part of their welfare benefits.

The big cheese

This term for the big boss or an important person (or someone who thinks they’re important) might come from the cheese meaning the best thing. The OED points to a quote from an 1882 publication, The New York Commercial Advertiser: “There is a paper published in Florida called the ‘Cracker’. We presume its editor is the cheese.” 

The phrase the main cheese first appeared in writing in 1899 while the OED’s earliest citation for the big cheese is from Raymond Chandler’s 1934 short story, “Smart-Aleck Kill” published in Black Mask magazine: “So the big cheese give me the job.”

Grilled cheese is the bee’s knees

According to How Stuff Works, the grilled cheese sandwich as we know it today can be traced back to the 1920s when a bread slicer was invented “that made distributing white bread easy and affordable.” By then James L. Kraft had patented and was distributing affordable processed cheese. Combine the two and voila! The homemade grilled cheese sandwich.

In 1929, the phrase grilled cheese sandwich appeared in print for the first time (at least as far as the OED can tell) in a publication called The Van Wert (Ohio) Daily Bulletin:

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches—spread bread with butter and place a thin slice of cheese between two slices. Either toast or saute in a little bacon fat over the fire in a frying pan.

Sounds delicious to us!

Meanwhile cheesecake is the cat’s pajamas

Cheesecake meaning revealing photographs of women is also from 1929, says the OED. From a an issue of Photo-Era magazine: “It was with the ship-news boys, too, that I learned to shoot ‘cheese-cakes’.” However, how this meaning originated is unknown. The male equivalent, beefcake, is from 1949.

Say cheese!

So why the heck do we say cheese when we have our picture taken? No one knows for sure, but the earliest mention is from 1943:

[Ambassador Joseph E.] Davies disclosed the formula while having his own picture taken on the set of his ‘Mission to Moscow.’ It’s simple. Just say “Cheese,” It’s an automatic smile.”

The ambassador goes on to say he learned the trick from an “astute” and “very great politician.” He won’t name names but it’s believed he’s referring to Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Prior to say cheese was simply cheese for a smiling expression. It originated prior to 1930 as Rugby School slang.

Cheesed off!

This British slang term for being annoyed or disgruntled is from 1941 or earlier: “‘I’m browned off,’ announces Taff. ‘I’m cheesed.’” However, where the phrase comes from is largely unknown.

Cheesy, not in a good way

Before cheesy meant corny or overly sentimental (originating about 1943, says the OED), it meant ostentatious or showy (1858) and inferior or second-rate (1863). These earlier terms were perhaps an ironic reversal of cheese meaning the best.

Who cut the cheese?

We expected this saying for passing gas to be a lot older, but the OED’s earliest citation is from the 1972 film, American Graffiti: “Hey man, who cut the cheese?” However, J.E. Lighter’s The Historical Dictionary of American Slang records oral use from 1959.

As for where the phrase comes from, that seems to be a mystery. The Phrase Finder says “cut” has been used to mean to expel gas since the 1800s, but we couldn’t find such evidence in the OED. We’ll just have to leave it to our imaginations — and our noses!

If you’re hungry for more, check out these cheesy lists.

Happy National Cocktail Day! A Brief Guide to Cocktail Terms

Cocktails are a complicated business, from the mixology to the glasses to the names. To get you started, drink up these cocktail slang terms and where they come from.

The origin of cocktail

While cocktail referring to a mixed drink with alcohol has been in use since at least 1803, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the word itself has been around since 1750. At that time it meant “a horse with a docked tail that sticks up,” and by 1863 had also gained the sense of “characterized by a lack of gentility or good breeding; lacking social propriety.” 

By 1808, it was used in horseracing to denote a “racehorse which is not a thoroughbred; a horse of mixed or inferior breed.” This “mixed breed” meaning might be how cocktail came to mean a mixed drink. Another theory, says the Online Etymology Dictionary (OEtD), is that it comes from the French coquetier, “egg-cup.” Back in 1795, an apothecary named Antoine Amédée Peychaud (the inventor of Peychaud’s Bitters) would brandy toddies in egg-cups. Eventually, the drink took on the name of the cup.

The sling is a the thing

Of cocktail, the OED also says “there was a gradual transition” from the word referring to “a specific type of mixed drink — essentially a sling” to “being used to refer to any alcoholic mixed drink.” This drink meaning of sling — consisting of “brandy, whiskey, or gin, sweetened and usually lemon-flavored” — is from about 1792. The origin is unknown, but there are a couple of theories. One says it comes from the sense of literally throwing or slinging back a drink while another cites the German word schlingen, “to swallow,” as the source. Popular “slings” include the gin and Singapore varieties.

Measure by measure

You might have noticed bartenders using a nifty silver measuring tool when they make your drinks. That’s called a jigger and measures about 1.5 fluid ounces. The OEtD says the term is from about 1836 and originally referred to a 1.5-ounce shot glass. It might come from an earlier meaning of an “illicit distillery” or else a kind of flea.

Another small measure of liquor is the nip. From about 1736, the term originally referred to “a half-pint of less of ale,” says the OED, and then came to mean any small quantity of spirits. A shortening of nipperkin, a nip might refer to a small sip of alcohol taken on the sly or a miniature bottle of any alcoholic drink.

Shaken versus stirred

We may all know James Bond prefers his vodka martinis “shaken not stirred,” but what does that mean exactly? In the former, the cocktail ingredients are put into a special shaker and, well, shaken (or tossed if you’re 1980s-circa Tom Cruise). In the latter, they’re stirred with a spoon. 

But the differences don’t end there. The Cocktail Lovers says the shaken method is best for cocktails with “strong fruit juice content” while stirring is gentler and the ideal way to mix “a largely spirit-based cocktail” — like the vodka martini. Take note, 007.

Back versus chaser

Backs and chasers are the side dishes of the cocktail world: drinks that accompany the main one. For instance you might have a beer with a whiskey chaser or a Bloody Mary with a beer back. While essentially the same thing, some say the two terms have a subtle difference: a back is usually “sipped alongside another drink” while a chaser follows a drink that’s thrown back quickly.

How do you want it?

Neat? Straight up? On the rocks? It’s all about temperature and purity. A drink served neat is undiluted — for instance, a bourbon neat has only bourbon and nothing else — and at room temperature. This sense of neat originally referred to “unadulterated” wine, says the OEtD, starting way back in the 1570s. The meaning of undiluted liquor is from around 1800.

Straight up or up refers to a cocktail that’s chilled but without ice. However, to make things even more confusing, the term straight might be synonymous with neat. Finally, on the rocks means a drink poured over ice and is attested to 1949, says the OED.

Garnishes

A garnish is a little extra something added to a drink, like a curly twist of citrus rind (attested to 1958) or an olive. Speaking of olives, they’re the default garnish for martinis so if you don’t like them, get your martini “with a twist” instead. If you like olive juice, you’ll want a dirty martini or if you prefer a pearl onion, order up a Gibson.

Swizzle that stick!

Some call them tacky, others call them collectible. Swizzle sticks are used to stir drinks but also act as sometimes elaborate drink decorations. The OED’s earliest citation is from 1879. Earlier is swizzle (1813), referring to various alcoholic drinks. That might come from switchel, a beverage of molasses, vinegar, and sometimes rum.

Mixers

Some cocktails are a mixture of alcohols only. For instance, a Manhattan is made of whiskey, vermouth, and bitters. Others contain mixers or nonalcoholic drinks, like orange juice. Mix that with some vodka and you have yourself a screwdriver. Add ginger beer and lime juice to that vodka and you have a Moscow mule. For its Kentucky cousin, just swap in bourbon for the vodka. A gin and tonic is (you guessed it) gin and tonic water, a gin fizz is gin, lemon juice, sugar, and tonic water, a jack and ginger is whiskey and ginger ale, and a rum and Coke has rum and, you guessed it, Coke.

Thirsty for more? Check out our posts on funny drink names and beer terminology, and this wine list.

September Food Word Origins: macadamia nut, Monte Cristo sandwich, cherries jubilee

Cherries Jubilee
Cooking up some cherries jubilee.

It’s the end of the month so you know what that means: a roundup of the most interesting origins of foods celebrated in September. Last month we kicked things off with s’mores, sponge-cake, and chop suey. This time we have five more delicious food words and where they (might) come from.

macadamia nut

“Perhaps the best of these [recent introductions to Hawaii] is the Macadamia Nut, sometimes called the Queensland Nut from its native habitat.”

Mary Dillingham Frear, Our Familiar Island Trees, 1929

The delicious macadamia nut (celebrated each September 4) was named after Scottish chemist and politician, John Macadam. At 28 he set sail from Glasgow to Australia, where he became friends with botanist Ferdinand von Mueller. Mueller was taxed with naming flora “discovered” by European settlers, and chose to name the nut-bearing tree after Macadam.

John Macadam shouldn’t be confused with John Loudon McAdam, the Scottish engineer who invented macadam, or Charles Macintosh, the Scottish chemist who created a method to make garments waterproof, such as his namesake, the mackintosh raincoat.

hot dog

“The ‘hot dog’ was quickly inserted in a gash in a roll, a dash of mustard also splashed on to the ‘dog’ with a piece of flat whittled stick, and the order was fulfilled.”

Paterson Daily Press, December 31, 1892

A hundred and third plus years ago, you’d be lauding sausages served hot every National Hot Dog Day on September 10. That’s what the term hot dog originally referred to (with the popular, yet hopefully untrue, belief that sausage contained dog), says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). It was also used as a mass noun. From a September 14, 1884 issue of the Evansville Daily Courier: “Even the innocent ‘wienerworst’ man will be barred from dispensing hot dog on the street corner.”

hot cross bun

“Good Friday comes this Month, the old woman runs With one or two a Penny hot cross Bunns.”

Poor Robin’s Almanack, 1733

Every September 11 honors the hot cross bun, which is  sweet and “marked on top with a cross of frosting, traditionally eaten during Lent.” The 1733 citation above is the earliest recorded, says the OED, and while “hot” is still always included in the name, it’s now usually served cold.

linguini

“When peas are used, rarely is the sauce poured over the linguine or fettuccelle.”

Garibaldi M. Lapolla, Good Food from Italy, 1954

Every September 15, you can fete this long, flat pasta, the name of which comes from the Italian lingua, meaning “tongue.” The earliest recorded usage in English of linguine is 1920, according to the OED. From a U.S. Patent Office publication: “Macaronic Foods, Including Bombolati, Linguini, Foratini, [etc.].” Italian immigrants had been coming to the U.S. since the 1890s, and while immigration tapered off around 1920, says the Library of Congress, by then more than four million Italians had settled in the U.S.

Monte Cristo sandwich

“The Monte Cristo sandwich has always served as a sort of Rosetta Stone in my explorations of this planet.”

Thadius Van Landingham III, “Count the Monte Cristos,” The Stranger, May 11, 2006

Like the eponymous count of Alexandre Dumas’s 19th-century novel, the origins of the Monte Cristo sandwich are shrouded in mystery. According to the Food Timeline, the battered and fried ham and cheese sandwich celebrated every September 17 is probably a variation of the croque monsieur, the term of which first appeared in English in 1915, says the OED. As for the Monte Cristo, Food Timeline says it was most likely “first served in southern California” and was “very popular in the 1950s-1970s.” However, what it has to do with a rich and enigmatic nobleman, your guess is as good as ours.

cherries jubilee

“Thursday, it was Beef Wellington and Cherries Jubilee, and enough Sevruga Caviar to make the QE2 one of the Russian’s largest single customers.”

Rebecca Leung, “Farewell to the Queen,” CBS News, January 23, 2004

Lauded every September 24, this decadent dessert is made up of cherries in a flaming brandy sauce served over vanilla ice cream. It was supposedly created for Queen Victoria’s jubilee celebration, says Food Timeline. However, what isn’t clear is if it was for her golden jubilee in 1887, celebrating the 50th anniversary of her accession to the throne, or her diamond jubilee in 1897, the 60th anniversary.

A jubilee can refer to a specially celebrated anniversary, a season of celebration, or rejoicing itself. The Online Etymology Dictionary says the word comes from the Old French jubileu, “jubilee; anniversary; rejoicing,” which ultimately comes from the Hebrew yobhel, meaning “jubilee” but formerly “a trumpet, ram’s horn,” or literally “ram.” The site goes on to say the original jubilee was a year of emancipation of Hebrew “slaves and restoration of lands, to be celebrated every 50th year,” and “was proclaimed by the sounding of a ram’s horn on the Day of Atonement.”

[Image: “Cherries Jubilee” by something.from.nancy, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

August Food Word Origins: s’mores, sponge-cake, and chop suey

800px-Sponge_cake_at_Top_Cantonese_Restaurant

Every month seems to be chock-full of food holidays. For instance, August has no fewer than five pie days. While it all might be a bit much, so many delicious special occasions still make us hungry, not just for treats but for words.

Here we take a look at the origins of some of the most interesting (and yummy) celebrated dishes of this past month.

s’mores

Heavenly crisp (Also known as S’mores)… Toast two marshmallows over the coals to a crisp, gooey state and then put them inside a graham cracker and chocolate bar sandwich.”

Snyder and C. F. Loomis, The Outdoor Book, 1934

Chances are you’re familiar with this deliciously gooey snack celebrated every August 10. But did you know it wasn’t always known by its contracted name? While the earliest s’mores appears in print is 1934, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), some-more predates it by 11 years. From a September 1925 issue of the newspaper, Norwalk Hour: “At the supper, two Camp Andree ‘dishes’—‘Kabobs’ and ‘Some-mores’—were introduced.”

creamsicle

“Pour into thin glass and insert an Orange Creamsicle. Serve soda spoon and straws on the side.”

Let’s Sell Ice Cream, 1939

Creamsicle, like popsicle, is still an official trademark name of the Unilever company although it might be used now to mean any similar frozen sweet. While a popsicle is basically frozen sugary fruit juice on a stick, a creamsicle has vanilla ice cream at its center with another layer of ice in a variety of flavors. Lauded each August 14, the earliest appearance of creamsicle in print was in 1932, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.

sponge-cake

“You know how interesting the purchase of a sponge-cake is to me.”

Jane Austen, Selected Letters, June 1808

That’s right, the earliest known citation of the light and airy dessert is from none other than the Pride and Prejudice author, according to the OED. We’re guessing, however, Austen didn’t coin the term and that the baked good must have existed well before her mentioning it. You can celebrate the sponge cake every August 23.

waffle

“Everywhere, too, you get wafen; our wafles, and made and eaten in the same way.”

Aaron Burr, Private Journal, August 26, 1809

Yes, that Aaron Burr. While Burr’s usage is one of the earliest, the delightful-sounding compound waffle frolic predates it by 65 years: “For my own part I was not a little grieved that so luxurious a feast should come under the name of a wafel frolic.” The word waffle comes from the Dutch wafel.

chop suey

“A staple dish for the Chinese gourmand is chow chop svey [sic], a mixture of chickens’ livers and gizzards, fungi, bamboo buds, pigs’ tripe, and bean sprouts stewed with spices.”

Current Literature, October 1888

Legend says this dish of mixed meat and vegetables in a corn-starch-thickened sauce was invented on August 29, 1896 by a visiting Chinese statesmen. However, the above citation from the OED clearly debunks that. The Smithsonian chop suey most likely comes from Chinese immigrants who settled in the U.S. in the mid-1800s, “adapted to locally available foods and tame European-American tastebuds.” The word originates from the Cantonese shap sui, which translates roughly as “mixed bits.”

[Image: “Sponge cake at Top Cantonese Restaurant,” Roland Tanglao, CC BY 2.0]

8 Old-Timey Names for a Soft Drink

In coke, I trust

Depending on where you live in the United States, you might have a different name for a sweet, carbonated beverage. Live on the west coast or in the northeast? It’s soda. The midwest? That’s pop. Parts of the south? Coke (even if it’s Sprite).

But how about what Americans used to call fizzy sugar water? With our friends at the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), we bring you eight old-timey names for a soft drink.

soft beer

This old-fashioned name was used especially in Maine. A 1925 quote in DARE says that “even today in the remote northern part of Maine, carbonated beverages are referred to as ‘soft beer.’” According to the American Heritage Dictionary, small beer refers to weak or inferior beer, and, by extension, unimportant, trivial things. To think small beer of is to think lowly of someone or something, says the Oxford English Dictionary.

soda dope

This old-timey term might have been used especially in North Carolina. Also sodey dope, sody dope, or just dope, a southern colloquialism for a soft drink.

tonic

While some of us might equate tonic with tonic water, a quinine-flavored carbonated drink, in New England, it refers to a carbonated soft drink in general.

bottled drink

This vintage phrase was chiefly used in the South, especially North Carolina. Also bottle drink.

cold drink

If you happen to be in the Lower Mississippi Valley and someone offers you a cold drink, you can expect a non-alcoholic, carbonated, bottled beverage that won’t necessarily be cold, at least according to one quote in DARE.

drink

“I need a drink!” some of us might say when we crave a cocktail. But in the southern region, such a term refers to a booze-free, bubbly beverage.

soda water

To some of us soda water might refer to “a solution of water, sodium bicarbonate, and acid,” but to some, especially in Texas and the Lower Mississippi Valley, it refers to carbonated water that’s been sweetened and flavored.

belly wash

This saying originally referred to a drink, usually alcoholic, of poor quality, but in some regions of the U.S. it means any soft drink, usually carbonated. Usage is scattered throughout the country. The Journal of American Folklore cites a 1964 quote from a central Pennsylvania resident: “We had a plant in our town which bottled pop, and we boys would go to the ‘belly-wash factory.’”

What do you call a carbonated soft drink? Tell us in the comments!

The language of instant noodles

Chicken ramen

Top Ramen. Oodles of Noodles. Stroke in a bowl. Whatever you call instant noodles, you have one man to thank: Momofuku Ando, born on this day in 1910.

Originally from Taiwan, Ando moved to Osaka in his early 20s. After World War II, he witnessed the ravages of war, including food shortages. In response he embarked on a quest to invent noodles that were “tasty, inexpensive and easy to prepare.” In 1958, at the age of 48, he introduced Chicken Ramen, and 13 years later, Cup Noodles, inspired by Americans using Styrofoam cups as makeshift ramen bowls.

Since then the popularity of instant noodles has spread around the world, and with it, its different monikers. Today we slurp up the language of instant ramen.

Kappu men (Japan)

Let’s start where it all began. Instant noodles are often referred to by the genericized brand name, kappu men, what Americans know as Cup Noodles. Kappu is a “Japanification” of the word “cup” while men is the Japanese for “noodles.”

Pao mian (Taiwan)

Pao mian translates literally as “add hot water noodles.” (Pao Mian Ba, which means something like, “Let’s make instant noodles,” is known as the Codecademy of China.) Some Taiwan natives might also call instant noodles sun lih men. a brand introduced in the late 1960s.

Fang bian mian (China)

Those in the mainland turn to fang bian mian for a quick meal. The catchy rhyming phrase translates as “convenient noodles.” However, searching for fang bian mian on Weibo, a popular microblogging site, may turn up no results. The term was blocked back in 2014 because of its circuitous connection with Zhou Yongkang, a retired senior leader convicted for corruption.

Doll noodles (Hong Kong)

Hong Kongers in a rush might grab a bowl of gong je mein or doll noodles. Named for the little guy on the Nissin package, the term now refers to any brand.

Ramyeon (Korea)

Spicy ramyeon or ramyun comes from a brand name too, Shin Ramyun. Want to add some zing to your instant meal? Here are 13 ways of livening up a bowl of ramyeon.

Indomie (Indonesia)

Indomie is a brand that was introduced in Indonesia in the late 1960s, and has “become synonymous with instant noodles.” Warung indomie are small shops that sell cooked instant noodles, regardless of brand.

Maggi (Malaysia)

Maggi is a popular brand that’s become synonymous with instant noodles in general. They’re eaten at home and served in mamak food stalls. Maggi goreng is a kind of stir-fried dish that uses instant noodles. In 2015, Maggi noodles were banned in India for several months over health concerns.

Instant mami (Philippines)

Mami is a kind of noodle soup said to be invented by chef and entrepreneur Ma Mon Luk, who was born in China around 1896 and emigrated to the Philippines in 1918. Mami supposedly comes from a combination of the inventor’s name, Ma, and mi-ki, the Chinese word for egg noodles.

Mama (Thailand)

While Mama instant noodles aren’t the only brand in Thailand, they might be “the byword for for all types of instant noodles” in the country. Mama noodles are often used in other dishes such as phat mama, stir-fried instant noodles, and yum mama, noodle salad that uses instant noodles. Or you might make like Thai-American model Chrissy Teigen and add Mama instant noodles to your mother’s homemade tomyum broth.

Miojo (Brazil)

In Brazil, instant noodles might be called miojo, named for the brand that celebrated the 50th anniversary of its presence in the Brazilian market in 2014.

Maruchan (Mexico)

This brand is so popular in Mexico, one paper dubbed the country Maruchan Nation. Another name for instant noodles might be sopa para flojos, or “lazy people’s soup.”

Two-minute noodles (Australia)

Got two minutes down under? Then you can make a meal of instant noodles.

Pot Noodles (United Kingdom)

A popular brand introduced in the late 1970s, Pot Noodles have been associated with what’s called “lad culture.” The Oxford English Dictionary describes lad culture as “attitudes and behaviour considered to be typical of a ‘lad,’” or:

A young man characterized by his enjoyment of social drinking, sport, and other activities considered to be male-oriented, his engagement in casual sexual relationships, and often by attitudes or behaviour regarded as irresponsible, sexist, or boorish.

A 2013 New Statesman article calls Pot Noodles “Lad Culture in snack form,” complete with “drooling, retrograde sexism,” and a pretty offensive ad campaign. Since then, however, Pot Noodles has attempted to change their tune.

Coffee Talk: Regional Idioms to Describe Coffee

Chuck wagon of the Ole Southwest, plenty of meat, potatoes, frijoles and coffee about to be consumed

You might be aware that we at Wordnik love our coffee. In a classic post we explore caffeinated language from around the world, from the Italian espresso to the French café au lait to the Australian flat white.

Today we’re delving into how we talk about coffee in the U.S., and to help us are the editors at the Dictionary of American Regional English, also known as DARE. In case you didn’t know, DARE is a fantastic resource of language specific to states and other regions. For instance, what you call a frying pan might be called a skillet elsewhere. What you call pancakes might be flapjacks or griddle cakes in other parts of the country.

But we’re here to talk about joe. Pour yourself a mug and drink in these regional terms.

Strong enough to walk

Why call a bold cup of java strong when you can call it blackjack? Blackjack is a term used in Wisconsin and in “lumberjack lingo” in New England and the Great Lakes. Another lumberjack term for strong coffee is Norwegian or Norski in states like Minnesota and Wisconsin, which have long histories of Norwegian settlers. Norwegian coffee also refers to coffee with an egg in it.

Shanty coffee seems to have originated in the New York area and is so-called as it was made by fisherman who lived in shanties, or little cabins or huts. Cowboy coffee is named for, you guessed it, the cowboys who boiled it. Six-shooter coffee is a cowboy term that comes from the idea, says DARE, that “it’s thick enough to float a pistol or because there’s six tablespoons for a four-cup pot.”

Strong enough to walk could refer to any strong-flavored food or drink but especially coffee, and centers in the South and Midland regions of the U.S.

Weak as water

Descriptions for weak coffee percolate across the U.S. as well. In Texas you might hear it called duck coffee, perhaps with the idea of a liquid a duck would swim in, i.e., water. In Pennsylvania it might cambric coffee, after the fine, thin fabric. In scattered regions, it might be dishwashy or dishwater.

In the Southwest, weak coffee might be derided as black water; as coffee-water in Georgia, Kentucky, and Mississippi; and as pond water in the South and South Midland. Also in the South and South Midland is branch water, from the original meaning of the term, water from a stream rather than a well, perhaps due to the light brown color often associated with streams.

In the Inland South and Appalachians there’s stump water, originally rainwater collected from tree stumps and used in folk magic and home remedies for ailments such as skin conditions. Perhaps by extension, stump water also means anything weak, often coffee. In other regions, the term water bewitched is used to describe highly diluted coffee or tea, often in the phrase water bewitched and coffee (or tea) begrudged.

Slumgullion, referring to a weak or disgusting beverage, was perhaps first used primarily in the western United States but now can be found in other regions as well. In his 1915 book, Travels in Alaska, John Muir describes a cup of coffee as “muddy” and “semi-liquid…which the California miners call ‘slickens’ or ‘slumgullion.'”

How do you take your coffee?

If you take your coffee black, you could call it black, or you could call it naked like they do in Mississippi and Texas, or stark naked like in Massachusetts. Or you could make like those in the Middle Atlantic, Central Atlantic, and Ohio Valley regions and call it barefooted.

Conversely, coffee with milk or cream would have its socks on, as they might say in parts of the south, or be seasoned, as they say in Pennsylvania and Kansas. Coffee and might refer to coffee and a donut or roll, or coffee with milk or cream. (Cider-and, by the way, is cider with alcohol or other ingredients, says the Oxford English Dictionary.)

Boston coffee is half cream, half coffee (perhaps named after the Boston cream pie?) in Louisiana, Texas, Illinois — but not in Boston.

What exactly do you mean by ‘regular’?

A regular coffee is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

In Boston and Massachusetts, a regular coffee will get you one with cream or milk. In Rhode Island, it’s cream or milk and sugar. In Chicago it’s black while in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Virginia, regular is caffeinated rather than decaf. Finally, in New York, a regular coffee has milk or cream, and possibly sugar (or two sugars, as Gothamist insists).

Coffee, figuratively

We’ve discussed idioms about a literal cup of coffee, but how about idioms with the word coffee? Coffee coat is another name for a housecoat used in Wisconsin. Grinding coffee is a way of jumping rope in Tennessee and perhaps elsewhere: one jumper stays in place while another jumps around her, like the wheels of an old-fashioned coffee grinder.

Coffee cooler is a military term for an idler or shirker, perhaps with the idea of an untouched hot beverage cooling off, while a coffee-strainer is nickname for a bushy mustache.

Be prepared if someone invites you to a coffee-drink in Louisiana: they’re talking about a wake. If someone in the South Midland or Texas says you don’t know split beans from coffee — in other words, you’re stupid or ignorant — you might consider giving them a drink of black coffee, or a severe reprimand, as they say in Pennsylvania.

How do you talk about your coffee?