Tidbit Tuesday: Language of the Soda Fountain

Aw yis. You know what day it is.

tibit tuesday(source)

If you’re a normal human being, you love ice cream. If you’re not a normal human being, then you may be an alien. If you’re a nostalgic human being, you love the idea of the Soda Fountain.

soda fountain

It’s a soda jerk. Haven’t you always wondered why he’s called a jerk?


The first Soda Fountain shows up in the 1820s, but didn’t gain popularity until one made a guest appearance at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. They didn’t reach full steam until 1919 when prohibition made life a whole lot more boring. With nothing to drink but milkshakes, the explosion of the soda fountain culture spawned a new food language.

1876 Philadelphia Centennial soda fountain

Mammoth Soda Fountain at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. There were a few other fountains there, including Tuft’s.


Soda fountain lingo developed because orders were placed without the use of tickets or computers (unless there were androids which is entirely possible). It needed to be clear and concise because the intense and busy environment didn’t leave much time for deciphering orders. They also needed to be memorable so something like “dog and maggot” wasn’t uncommon.

Here’s some of my favorite soda fountain language.

Since we’re talking about soda fountains, it’s only fair we start with the employees. They are, after all, the ones who made the magic happen. And by magic I mean ice cream, because ice cream is magic.

stereotypical soda jerk

He’s real happy to see ya again, mister!


  • “soda jerk” or “jerk” – the person who made drinks; name originates from the way they jerked the soda fountain lever to put carbonated water in the glass
  • “hashers” – waiters and waitresses
  • “the greaseburner” – cook
  • “pearl diver” – the dishwasher (misleading name; he was mostly diving for soggy bread)
soda fountain joan crawford

Joan Crawford enjoys a milkshake because why the hell not.


You can’t have a soda fountain without food orders. These are a few common order calls.

  • “shoot one” – small coke (“refers to the squirting of the cola suyrup from the syrup fountains”)
  • “pull one” – glass of milk
  • “stick” – ice-cream cone
  • “shake” – milkshake (obviously)
  • “one in” – chocolate ice-cream soda
  • “one in shake” – chocolate milk shake
  • “one on” – chocolate sundae
  • “fresh green” – fresh lime cola (anything that was not artificially flavored was called “fresh”)
  • “honest” – cherry cola (artificially flavored)
  • “shoot a pair and spike it” – two colas with lemon
  • “heavy on the bail” – extra ice
  • “crowd” – order of 3 (from two’s company, three’s a crowd)
  • “bridge party” or “bridge” – order of 4 (from the card game)
sofa fountain girl

Fix the pumps. You know what I mean.


There were also names for customers, owners, and staff.

  • “fix the pumps” – girl with large breasts
  • “white bread” – the boss is around
  • “salt water man” – ice-cream maker
  • “pop boy” – bad soda jerk
  • “George Eddy” – non-tipper

There was such a large amount of lingo that several anthologies were compiled in order to dispense any confusion. The most commonly known were The Dispenser’s Formulary or Soda Water Guide, The Standard manual of Soda and other Beverages, and The American Soda Book. These three books have a combined 5,500 formulae.

the Standard Manual Of Soda And Other Beverages

The Standard Manual Of Soda And Other Beverages, 1906


  • “Adam and Eve on a raft” – two fried eggs on toast
  • “cat beer” – milk
  • “midget from Harlem” – small chocolate soda
  • “nervous pudding” – Jell-O (jelly)
  • “walking puppies” – hot dogs wrapped for take out
  • “Rhinelander” – vanilla ice-cream in a chocolate soda (reference to mixed-race marriages)
  • “Noah’s Boy with Murphy carrying a wreath” – ham, potatoes, and cabbage
  • “dog and maggot” – biscuits and cheese
Dispenser's Formulary Soda Water Guide Recipes

Dispenser’s Formulary Soda Water Guide Recipes, 1915


And that, my dears, is why working at the soda fountain would be really confusing.


Keep eating and asking, my friends.



Works Cited:

-Walker, Harlan, and Robin Weir. “‘One leg of a pair of drawers’: The American Soda Fountain Lingo.” Disappearing Foods: Studies in Foods and Dishes at Risk: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 1994. Totnes: Prospect, 1995. 215-220. Print.

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