Who Put the “Miss” in the “Miss Somebody Diner”?

Miss Portland Diner

Have you ever noticed that some diners have the word “Miss” as part of their name? Ever wonder why?

American diners began in the mid-nineteenth century as horse-drawn lunch wagons. They were mobile and traveled from place to place, but instead of offering only walk-up service, they included room for patrons to sit inside at a counter, out of the elements. The lunch wagons primarily traveled to workplaces, providing their services to the men who were employed there. They also remained open at night, after restaurants had closed, thereby offering a place to grab a quick, inexpensive meal for the nighttime crowd.

Eventually, the lunch wagon business became so popular, towns began to enact ordinances to restrict their numbers and hours of operation. Wagon owners responded by finding semi-permanent locations for their wagons, and soon the idea of the prefabricated dining unit as an inexpensive way to start a business took off. Many of them ran on a shoestring budget that did not include funds for maintenance or landscaping, giving them the reputation of “greasy spoons” that appealed only to the working man.

By the 1920s, with women’s suffrage in the forefront, many of the diners recognized the need to attract women if they were to stay in business. In addition to cleaning up their act, adding booths or tables, and improving the esthetics with paint and flowers, many added the word “Miss” to their name in an effort to soften their image and appeal to women.

Over the years, the names of diners may change with new owners, and many of the old “Miss Somebody” diners have been renamed. Today we still have the “Miss Lyndonville Diner” and “Miss Bellows Falls Diner” here in Vermont, “Miss Worcester Diner” and “Miss Mendon Diner” in Massachusetts, and the “Miss Albany Diner” in New York. Hopefully, there are others. The “Miss” has also been commandeered by eating places that are not true diner-car diners, including one of our old favorites for blueberry pie, “The Miss Wiscasset Diner” in Wiscasset, Maine.

Personally, we find the whole “Miss” thing charming — just another reason to appreciate the history of the American Diner.

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An Ugly Word for a Beautiful Phenomenon

guttation

My garden plants—especially cucumbers and certain types of weeds—often exhibit a row of water beads in neat, uniform rows on the surface or edges of their leaves early in the morning. This phenomenon, lovely as it is, goes by the unfortunate name of guttation.

Guttation is not the same as dew. Dew forms on the surface of leaves and grasses when moisture in the air condenses into little pools of water. Guttation occurs when water pressure inside the plant pushes water out through water glands called hydathodes. This is most likely to occur on cool nights or when high humidity inhibits natural evaporation of moisture from the leaves. Roots continue to draw water from the soil, and when internal water pressure becomes too high, it forces excess moisture out through the glands.

Guttation is not an indication of over-watering. Rather, it’s the reaction of a healthy plant. Over-fertilizing, however, can have a negative effect via guttation, because of minerals that may be carried out onto the leaf tips and left there to accumulate when the water dries.

The origin of the word is from the Latin “gutta” meaning “drop.”

Who’s Got the Blues?

blue moon

I had no idea what I was in for when I looked up the definition of the word “blue.”

I was particularly interested in its use as an indicator of questionable decency, such as a “blue movie” or “blue language.” I knew I would run into descriptions of the color, of course, but I never thought about how many ways the word is actually used in the English language or how many meanings it has.

You can be a blue-blood, a bluestocking, a bluenose, or be born a blue baby with a heart defect and cyanotic skin. Baby blues can be a description of someone’s enchanting eyes, or baby blues can be the feeling of sadness a woman may experience after giving birth. You can put bluing in your laundry to make the whites whiter, live in a blue state, or get caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

A blue ribbon puts you in first place, but feeling blue means you’re depressed or sad. Having or singing the blues signifies low spirits or feeling melancholy, while music known as the blues is defined as jazz or popular music using specific harmonic and phrase structures.

Doing something until you’re blue in the face means it’s hopeless and going nowhere. Something coming out of the blue is a surprise. Once in a blue moon indicates something that happens rarely, but with the current definition of a blue moon, they are actually not so rare. A blue moon was defined as the second full moon in one calendar month, which doesn’t happen all that often. However, now it’s also used to indicate the third of four full moons in a season, which makes it much more common.

Most interesting are the contradictory definitions around morality. A bluenose is a person with puritanical values. Blue language or a blue movie is defined as obscene, coarse, crude, dirty, indecent, lascivious, lewd, profane, smutty, trashy, and so on.

As should happen in any excursion into etymology, I learned a couple of new words: bluestocking and billingsgate.

A bluestocking is a woman having intellectual or literary interests. The term was an attempted put-down in mid-18th century England when learning was considered to be an inappropriate pursuit for a woman. The women in question deflated the put-down by embracing it and calling themselves the Blue Stocking Society.

And billingsgate? It’s a noun defined as “coarsely abusive language.” Billingsgate was a centuries-old fish market in London, England, known for the crude and vulgar language continuously used by the fishmongers, male and female alike. To be subjected to billingsgate is to be subjected to foul language.

Interestingly, one term that did not show up spontaneously was “blue-hair,” meaning an elderly person, often with white hair having a bluish tinge. When I specifically searched for the term, two separate sources used the same sentence as an example of its use, each referring to getting “the blue-hairs off the road.” Hmmph.

What other uses of the word “blue” have I missed?

Post Script: My husband wants to know how I could forget blue balls. And we’re not talking bocce here, folks.