The Reason Tuna Is Referred To As 'Radio' In Diner Speak

When you go to a roadside diner or your favorite local greasy spoon, one of the best parts of the experience besides the food is listening to diner speak. It really is its own language reserved for use by those who have aptly paid their kitchen and waitstaff dues. According to the book "Eating Your Words: 2000 Words to Tease Your Taste Buds" by William Grimes, diner lingo has been around since the 1840s. An ever-evolving culinary patois, this vernacular was both useful for those working and for the bottom line. If you were fluent in this shorthand for order taking, it made the workflow for the kitchen go smoothly, gaining repeat customers for these quick-service eateries.     

While most people have probably heard terms like "Adam and Eve on a Raft" (which means "two eggs on toast" per Taste of Home) or "Give it shoes" (aka "it's to go"), there are lists of diner terms that you might be less familiar with. One of these is the term for a tuna fish sandwich. Taste of Home explains the word "radio" is often used in diners to refer to this favorite fish sandwich. Why "radio"? The word association behind this diner term may have you feeling like a kid again. 

A riff on the game telephone

According to Taste of Home the origins of calling a tuna sandwich "radio" can be traced to the childhood game telephone. If you are unfamiliar, telephone is a whispering game where the first person quietly whispers a phrase into the next person's ear and repeats this process until the last person in line hears the word and says it out loud. More often than not, the original phrase has mutated into a new one by the time it makes it to the last person.

Blogger Barry Popik explains that in some diner kitchens in the 1950s, the word "tuna" was misheard as "tune it." Normally, the phrase would have been heard around the diner as workers yelled back to the kitchen to "tune it down" or to turn down the radio. This word association stuck, and some diner slinger changed a tuna salad sandwich to "a radio." It's why a tuna on toast is referred to as "tuna down" or "radio down" too.  

Of course, time marches on and so does culinary lingo. Just check-out social media which has created a new tuna fish sandwich lingo. If you are a fan of TikTok, you may have heard of a Tunacado, which per Bustle, is basically a mash-up of the two ingredients it is comprised of tuna fish and avocado. Sounds delicious, but way less fun than radio, in our opinion.