In the New York Times (September 24 on-line, September 25 in my print edition), a story (“Armfuls of Wiener Rolls, Mouthfuls of Coffee Milk and Outstretched Palms” by Dan Barry) about bush-league graft in North Providence RI, focused on Greg Stevens, owner of three Providence-area restaurants with the fascinating name Olneyville New York System (explanation of the name in the article) that specialize in wieners “all the way” (with meat sauce, diced onions, and celery salt – for $1.80) with coffee milk. There’s a host of linguistically interesting material in this description already, with more to come in the sign for the North Providence restaurant and in the story’s lead-in.

The sign:

And the lead-in:

Will you do the right thing?

Not so long ago, that question came looking for one of the regular, hard-working Joes of Rhode Island. In a recent federal indictment alleging audacious public corruption in the small town of North Providence, he is described only as the owner of “Business B,” which in turn is described only as a “hot dog restaurant.” Wieners, actually, but no matter.

On our plate, then, are at least the following:

the spelling WEINER on the sign;

the choice of wiener vs. hot dog (or frankfurter);

(a side dish: the origin of the term hot dog);

the use of restaurant;

the meaning of wiener roll;

the expression coffee milk; and

(side course) the risibility of wieners the food and the dachshund dogs and most of their names.

The spelling. The spelling WEINER is so common that OED2 just treats it as a variant of WIENER, along with weeny/weenie, with cites from the 1960s on.

Alternative terms. The Wikipedia entry for (American English) hot dog on 9/25/10  treats hot dog, frankfurter, and wiener as synonyms:

A hot dog (frankfurter, wiener) is a moist sausage of soft, even texture and flavor, often made from meat slurry, typically beef and pork, though some recent varieties substitute chicken or turkey. Most types are fully cooked, cured or smoked.

Hot dogs are most often served hot in hot dog buns, which are special soft, sliced rolls. They may be garnished with mustard, ketchup, onion, mayonnaise, relish, cheese, bacon, chili or sauerkraut. Some hot dogs are bland, while others are more highly seasoned.

On this account, the only differences in the terms are presumably stylistic, with hot dog and wiener being more informal and vernacular, frankfurter more formal and technical. (Then there are clipped versions, dog and frank.)

Some people seem to make distinctions in this semantic domain. Something of this sort is hinted at in the NOAD2 entries:

hot dog: a hot sausage served in a long, soft roll and typically topped with a variety of condiments

frankfurter: a seasoned smoked sausage typically made of beef and pork… From German Frankfurter Wurst ‘Frankfurt sausage’

wiener: a frankfurter or similar sausage… early 20th cent.: abbreviation of Wienerwurst ‘Vienna sausage’

In the Providence area, however, wiener has definitely specialized. Here’s the dish from the Providence Examiner‘s food site (note the spelling):

What the Heck is a Hot Weiner Anyway?

They’re not hot dogs, I’ll tell you that much. Don’t ever ask for a hot dog with weiner sauce! Weiners are reddish-colored ropes of meat usually made of pork and veal, and cut off, squared at the ends, not tied like a hot dog. Ordering hot weiners “all-the-way” means steamed buns, weiners smothered in meat sauce made with a secret recipe, topped with chopped onions, mustard and celery salt. The celery salt makes all the difference!

Years ago, the brave weiner chef would put on a show as he lined up 15 or more buns, from his wrist to his upper arm, and filled them with weiners and all the hot toppings. Many burns later, a Rhode Island tradition is lost thanks to health department regulations and plastic gloves.

The Olneyville N.Y. System people resolutely use the spelling WIENER on their own site, by the way.

The origin of hot dog. Michael Quinion has assembled the story of hot dog (which almost every book on word histories gets wrong), using the research of Barry Popik. Read Quinion’s column here.

The term restaurant. I’ve long had a posting in preparation about restaurant as used for establishments serving food. The Olneyville N.Y. System chain calls their places restaurants, but then so does McDonald’s, though many speakers of English are reluctant to use the unmodified term restaurant for such places. In-N-Out Burgers calls their places stores. And so it goes. There’s a cline from the central examples of restaurants, through fast food restaurants (which have some restaurant properties but not all), to groceries and the like that sell prepared food and provide tables for eating, to strictly take-away places (which are definitely out of the restaurant orbit).

The meaning of wiener roll. If you go to an Olneyville N.Y. System place and order a wiener roll, you expect to get a roll (or bun) with a wiener in it, a wiener in a roll. On the other hand, if you go to a grocery story and WIENER ROLLS are on the shopping list, you’ll be looking for just the buns, and if you want some sort of hot-dog-oid items to put in those buns, that’s a separate trip to a different aisle.

So wiener roll is ambiguous, with the appropriate meaning determined by context.

Coffee milk. Another Rhode Island thing (though also found elsewhere, including in Australia, I’m told). It’s like chocolate milk, but with coffee syrup instead of chocolate syrup. The Wikipedia page explains that the drink (along with the name) was introduced to Rhode Island in the 1930s and that as of 1993 it’s the official state drink there.

The risibility of wieners. Thanks to their shape, wieners / hot dogs / frankfurters (indeed sausages in general) are classic phallic symbols, and then the word wiener is also used metaphorically, as a slang term for the penis (and then metonymically for a type of man) and for dachshunds, with the result that images of the food, the use of the word wiener, and the dogs are all mildly giggle-inducing.

That leads to slightly risqué items like the following entry on the Drink Eat Travel site:

I Like My Wieners Greasy

This is the first time I have worn my “Love Your Wiener” t-shirt and received a legitimate compliment. It was from some guys that truly do love their wieners. Brothers Josh and Adam Dragotta love wieners so much they’ve created a food truck called The Greasy Wiener, which brings authentic Jersey-Style wieners to the mouths of Los Angelenos.

This is No Ordinary Wiener

Josh explained that their wieners are no ordinary dog. Their all-beef wieners are hand twisted then deep-fried and cradled by steamed buns, making it a true Jersey-style bite. They offer a veggie option, A.K.A. “The Greasy Hippie,” prepared the same way, making it taste even more like a real meat and infinitely better than a veggie dog from Pink’s.

Wiener, Wiener! Beef and Veggie Dinner!

Josh and Adam will tell you with a straight face that they are devoted to making their wieners taste amazing for you. The new truck has only been rolling since mid-March, but they already have fans of their authentic, homemade East Coast chili with homemade cheese topping. The Greasy Wiener rolls around Los Feliz and Silverlake, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, bringing the finest double entendre opportunities to your neighborhood. You can order a wiener, sack of fries, and soda, otherwise known as “The Package” for six bucks.

13 Responses to “Wieners”

  1. mae Says:

    Re: “The term restaurant.”

    You probably already know of the book “The Invention of the Restaurant” by Rebecca Spang. It has a discussion of the early uses of the term, beginning in Early Modern France (if you are thinking of taking it back that far). Sorry if this is not on your topic.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Fodder for that other posting (which threatens to become unmanageably long). Even without going back in history, there are all sorts of puzzling cases: pubs and bars that serve food, dining rooms in hotels, cafeterias, and so on, as well as the ones I mentioned in my posting. The terms that such establishments use for themselves vary, as do the headings used in lists of places to get food (Yellow Pages, on-line listings, etc.), and in cases of chains there’s often a difference between the terms the establishments use to their customers and the jargon used in-house (restaurant vs. store or location).

  2. On the insult patrol « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] posted recently on wieners (here), I’m especially interested in weenie or weeny as an insult. In that posting, I assumed that […]

  3. mollymooly Says:

    I was surprised to learn that “hot dog” refers only to the sausage, not necessarily to the sausage+bun combination. I think this is a BrE–AmE dialect difference, and the reverse of the difference for “hamburger”, which in the US presupposes a sandwich but elsewhere refers only to the “patty”.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      I didn’t mean to give the impression that “hot dog” refers only to the sausage. It depends on the context. If you order a hot dog in an eating establishment, you’ll automatically get the sausage in a bun. But if you go to a grocery store to buy hot dogs, they don’t come with buns; these you have to buy separately. So this is just like “hamburger”.

      “Sausage” is different, since they’re customarily offered in eating establishments without buns, so if the establishment offers sausage links in a bun (or sausage patties in a sandwich), they’ll say so.

  4. Possibly unfortunate names « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] 3. Tube Steak. Here the problem is yet another metaphorical extension of a word referring to a hot dog to use in reference to the penis; see the wiener discussion here. […]

  5. Rutt’s and Mutt’s « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] 3/27/10: The Saturday cartoon crop (link) 8/22/10: for Mod values of Adj (link) 8/23/10: Failure to fact-check (link) 9/11/10: Pink Freud (link) 9/12/10: Phallicity: Würste (link) 9/21/10: Phallicity: hi-def meets hot dog (link) 10/31/10: Wieners (link) […]

  6. Euphemisms? « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] [note the spelling] […]

  7. Corndogs and their ilk « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] 10/31/10: Wieners (link) […]

  8. Food and drink postings « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Wieners (link) […]

  9. Meat math « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] is an ambiguity in context, discussed in this blog here: If you order a hot dog in an eating establishment, you’ll automatically get the sausage in a […]

  10. Gidget and her friends « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] (a sense that became especially prominent in skiing and surfing). Later – OED3 has it first in 1963 — came the specifically surfing use for ‘a large surfboard, somewhat smaller than a ‘gun’ ‘. The name Tubesteak picks up some of these associations. It might also have associations to the phallic slang tube steak, which I discussed here as a possibly unfortunate name for a hot-dog stand, noting: Here the problem is yet another metaphorical extension of a word referring to a hot dog to use in reference to the penis; see the wiener discussion here. […]

  11. Nightmare stories « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] The title — “Ich bin ein Frankfurter” — echoes John F. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” quotation from a famous 1963 speech at the Berlin Wall. Kennedy was using Berliner ‘citizen of Berlin’ (to claim solidarity with the people of Berlin), though critics pointed out that Berliner is also used (by metonymy) to refer to a type of doughnut. There’s a similar ambiguity in Frankfurter: ‘citizen of Frankfurter’ or (by metonymy) a type of sausage (see, for instance, this wiener posting). […]

Leave a Reply