At the onomatomania dinette

Today’s Zippy is set in the Ghent neighborhood of Norfolk VA of a few years back, in a Do-Nut Dinette — whose name throws Zippy into a fit of onomatomania (aka repetitive phrase disorder) compounded with Spooner’s affliction (compulsive exchange of word elements in phrases):


(Separately, there’s the use of dinette to refer to a diner, as a type of restaurant.)

The actual diner. And its NC namesake.


The diner is now closed; in 2016 the building was said to be operating as the Little Dog Diner. In its day, it was apparently the diner place to be in downtown Norfolk, and its donuts were celebrated.

Meanwhile, diners with donuts as a specialty sprung up elsewhere. Notably in North Carolina.

From the Our State site (“celebrating North Carolina”), in “Doughnuts: The Next State Symbol? Why these sweet, golden-fried treats deserve iconic status in the Tar Heel state” by Julie Jean Thomson on 6/7/13:

This may come as a surprise, but North Carolina doesn’t have an official state dessert. We should change that.

For the honor, I nominate the doughnut.

Consider its history here, beginning with Krispy Kreme.

… Now consider another company, Do-Nut Dinette, which grew out of Charlotte in the ’40s and ’50s. You could find its stores in several North Carolina cities, including Charlotte, Gastonia, Durham, Statesville, Rockingham, Burlington, and Lexington [and then elsewhere in the South].

Do-Nut Dinette stores boasted a distinctive, modern design with curved edges. A doughnut above the door advertised the company’s signature offering. Large glass windows covered the front of the building; an inside counter lined with stools ran the length of the shop; and stainless steel panels covered the walls inside.

See a photograph from Open Durham of the Durham Do-Nut Dinette at located at 1006 West Main Street.

(#3) The photo — not dated, but clearly from well back in the 20th century

Despite a number of adoring fans, all of the Do-Nut Dinette shops are now closed.

(My Zippy diner postings tend to have an elegiac tone.)

The language play. In each of the first three panels, Zippy compulsively repeats a phrase he finds in some way attractive or pleasing, starting with the name of the diner he’s in: Do-Nut Dinette... This repetition, treating the phrase as a kind of mantra, has come up in Zippy strips under various names; see my 10/3/17 posting “Repetitive phrase disorder”, with several alternative labels for

Word attraction extended to the phrase level and made into a satisfying (though compulsive) verbal routine.

— of which onomatomania is my current favorite.

But then Zippy transforms the phrase by exchanging / transposing / reversing / Spoonerizing elements: first, do-nut dinette > di-nut donette by exchange of 1st syllables (do-nut dinette > dinette do-nut by whole-word exchange would also be possible); di-nut donette would > donette di-nut by simple word exchange; but Zippy reduces donette to do-ette, producing do-ette di-nut.

The dinette as a type of eating establishment. Diners specializing in doughnuts / donuts are found all over North America, but the name Do-Nut (or Do Nut or Donut) Dinette seems to be largely a Southern American thing. In fact, it might be that until recently the label dinette for ‘diner’ in the eating-establishment sense was primarily a Southern usage. But this turns out to be more of a challenge to investigate than I had expected.

For background, the noun diner in NOAD3:

1 a person who is eating, typically a customer in a restaurant. 2. [a] a dining car on a train. [b] a small roadside restaurant with a long counter and booths, originally one designed to resemble a dining car on a train.

2b is put together with 2a for the historical reason given in the 2b definition, but surely these days (when few people have any experience of dining cars on trains) the ‘small narrow unpretentious restaurant’ usage should be treated as a separate entry. (And roadside should be eliminated or hedged; urban diners have been a thing for a very long time, as time is judged for such things.)

Then from the same dictionary on the noun dinette:

[a] a small room or part of a room used for eating meals. [b] North American a set of table and chairs for a dinette. ORIGIN 1930s: formed irregularly from dine + –ette.

AHD5 similarly has only these two senses; the restaurant sense is completely missing. I find these gaps surprising, but then I’ve just been investigating Do-Nut Dinettes in the middle South (VA and NC).

The OED from 1972 has three senses for the noun dinette (originally U.S.):

a. A small room, an alcove, or part of a room set aside for meals. [first cite 1930 Ladies’ Home Journal]
b. A set of articles of dining furniture, usually compactly designed. [first cite 1931 Sears Catalogue]
c. A small restaurant. [only one cite, 1940 from Sinclair Lewis, Bethel Merriday]

Thinking that the restaurant sense was missing because it was (at least until very recently) regionally restricted, I checked DARE — which had no entry, but then the usage is urban rather than rural (DARE is tilted towards rural usages) and might have appeared as an alternative to diner too recently for DARE to have caught it.

That’s where things stand, with dinette ‘diner’ as, perhaps, mostly a Southernism — except that this usage has quite recently become trendy. Evidence from two stories on the fashionable-food front (reproduced here without comment)…

First, from the San Diego Union-Tribune, “Ruby’s Diner launches 1960s-themed dinettes” by Katherine P. Harvey on 9/23/13:

The Ruby Restaurant Group, an Irvine-based company that operates iconic 1940s-themed diners in six states, rolled out a new dinette concept at Westfield Plaza Bonita this month.

The new quick-serve eatery, which has a 1960s theme, features a new menu of higher-end fast food, such as kale Caesar salad and peppadew and portabello melts, alongside burgers with Applewood bacon and Swiss cheese on artisan buns. The spicy Ensenada Burger topped with a fried egg is a nod to the local palate. Other popular menu items include hot housemade potato chips and milkshakes in more than 20 flavors.

The dinette, with its mid-century modern aesthetic of amoeba-shaped cutouts and circle patterns, joins the likes of Stone Oven and Chipotle at the National City mall, where it replaced Johnny Rockets.

Instead of waiting to be seated and served like at the traditional diners, customers can grab their meals and eat in the mall’s food court, or sit in retro bar stools at the counter made of multi-colored glass bits.

Then, from the Infatuation worldwide restaurant review site, in its Los Angeles section, a review (not dated) of Dinette, a diner in the Echo Park neighborhood of L.A., by Michael Burke:

Oh Dinette, we’ve never been so torn. Sometimes we have a tendency to romanticize things for the wrong reasons. Maybe this is the way they did things in the “old days.” Maybe the “cool kids” like it. Or maybe we just spent too much money on it to admit that it actually sucks. Or maybe, like music festivals, it’s the combination of all three of these things.

I’m also going to add in “eating on the street.” Does it remind you of Paris? Is the place hip? Was your breakfast sandwich super expensive so of course you’re having the time of your life? But what if that street you’re eating on is in middle of a historically working class Hispanic neighborhood and you’re more or less sitting at the bus stop? Do you still feel that great about that super expensive breakfast sandwich? God damn it. Yes, you do. It’s so f*cking tasty. But do you feel good about yourself? Maybe not so much.

It takes some special food to overcome this uncomfortable, glaring bat signal of gentrification. But Dinette does just that. A mix of sweet and savory pastries, a variety of egg sandwiches, and some absolutely killer waffles, the food is everything you’d want in a brunch spot. Not a breakfast person? There’s a small sandwich menu, which is great for a light afternoon meal for you as well, you freak. So come down, wear sunglasses, grab your expensive brunch, forgo the seating and just run as fast you can away from your guilt. And then scarf down this delicious food.

The review singles out Dinette’s waffles, scrambled eggs on toast, raspberry-topped lemon tart, and meatball sandwich, all said to be fabulous.

We’re a long way from the Do-Nut Dinette in Durham NC in #3.

2 Responses to “At the onomatomania dinette”

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