Sunday, June 26, 2011

Oh English, I Weep for Thee

A member of one of my professional chat rooms reported an incident that happened to him this week. He wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. He and his wife and three other couples went out to dinner together. They picked a local diner to eat at. Because it's summer and high schoolers are now on vacation, this particular diner hires a number of those highschoolers for various positions, although not normally as wait staff. However, the diner was busy so one of the busgirls was co-opted into taking their dinner order. She asked what everyone wanted. Two people ordered fried chicken. As she was writing down their orders she repeated them aloud: "Okay, that'll be 2 fried cluck."

One of the people who had ordered the chicken corrected her and said, "I'd like fried chicken." The busgirl replied: "Yeah, I know. You get fried cluck." Finally someone at the table asked her why she was calling it fried cluck. She answered: "Everyone knows that chickens cluck and the word is shorter to say and write then chicken is." Yes, one of those at the table is a professor of English, and I can understand why he couldn't resist saying "You know, chickens only cluck if you are a native speaker of English. In other languages they make different sounds and different words are used to represent those sounds. What if we had been non-native speakers of English? Using cluck would have told us nothing we could understand."

What was the busgirl's answer? Quite seriously she said: "Let 'em learn English!"

Yes indeed.


Mr. Cohen said...

Correct spelling, grammar and punctuation are simply not fashionable in contemporary America.


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Anonymous said...

It sounds like a downscale place, but that doesn't mean the food isn't good... I know restaurant workers use their own lingo, but usually they keep it out of the dining room. More a sign of casualness or laziness than the demise of the English language.

JS said...

I really don't see the problem. She was using shorthand to write down the order. Restaurants often use bizarre codewords for various orders. Who cares what in the world she writes down or calls it as long as it's understood properly by the people cooking it. I think the issue is with the people ordering who were being snooty and thought the waitress was too stupid to understand what "fried chicken" is.

Also pretty ridiculous to chide her (in English) that non-native English speakers wouldn't understand her reference. Number one, doesn't matter - see above. Number two, as the saying goes, "and if my grandmother had wheels, she'd be a wagon" - they weren't non-native English speakers, so who cares?

As for the "demise of the English language" - based on what? That she said "'em" instead of "them"? Bit nit picky, no? It's conversational speech, not an essay.

If I'm in a restaurant, I care about the service and the food not the English skills of the wait staff.

I'm waiting for the next story about the English professor who visited an underperforming, inner-city school and was appalled at how the students who are repeating 5th grade for the 3rd time keep ending sentences with a participle.

JS said...

OK. That you can attribute to the demise of the English language. I meant a "preposition" not a "participle."


ProfK said...


One of my former tutoring students is the son of someone who owns a number of diners in the NY/NJ area. I called the father and asked if "cluck" is kitchen shorthand for chicken. He said this was the first time he had ever heard the term used that way and that it wasn't a common kitchen linguistic shorthand.

I also asked him about his back kitchen staff--were they all native speakers of English or were they a mix of non-native and native. He told me that all but 2 of his kitchen staff in all his diners are non-native speakers. That being the case, cluck certainly wouldn't be the word of choice as shorthand, not being supported by the words used in their native languages.

Want to start off Monday on a strange note? Go to
for a listing of the words for animal sounds in languages other than English.

Miami Al said...

This definitely reads like "snooty professors go to diner and turn up their noses as the blue collar staff."

So this busgirl and the kitchen staff are writing/reading cluck, who cares?