“Burn the British!” is old restaurant slang for an order of a toasted English muffin. The slang was recorded in New York Panorama: A Comprehensive View of the Metropolis, Presented in a Series of Articles Prepared by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration in New York City (1938). In 1941 (during World War II), it was reported that “Burn the British!” was changed to “One up for the British!”
The slang became rare by the 1960s and is of historical interest today.
New York Panorama:
A Comprehensive View of the Metropolis, Presented in a Series of Articles
Prepared by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration in New York City
New York, NY: Random House
In cafeteria, diners, lunchettes and luncheonettes the cries of countermen repeating orders to the chefs will prove amusing to the out-of-towner. Staples surviving the introduction of microphones include nervous pudding for Jello; burn the British or toasted Wally for a toasted English muffin; smear one, burn it for a toasted cheese sandwich; bottle o’ red for catsup; one to go for an order to be taken out; one cow for a glass of milk; stretch it for a large glass; burn one with a feather for a chocolate malted milk with an egg in it; and the strident eighty-six, a warning to the cashier that a customer is trying to leave without paying his check.
25 May 1941, Pampa (TX) News, “Just Between Us Girls” by Johnnie Davis, pg. 7, col. 1:
World events have a way of being reflected even at a humble soda fountain breakfast counter…Not long ago when toasted English muffins were ordered at a certain drug store, the waitress gave the order by calling out, “Burn the British!” Now, when these same toasted muffins are requested, the order is relayed, “One up for the British.”
Google News Arcnive
5 June 1951, Miami (FL) Daily News, pg. 4-A, col. 7:
Burn The British Twice!
Translation…two toasted English muffins. Waitresses have a language all their own. Harvey Keeler supplies the dictionary in
SUNDAY NEWS MAGAZINE
MIAMI SUNDAY NEWS
6 November 1960, Cedar Rapids (IA) Gazette, Parade magazine, pg. 16, col. 2:
Here’s what they mean when they say
BURN THE BRITISH
Burn the British…Toasted English muffin
4 September 1983, The Daily Advocate (Stamford, CT), “Gimme a BLT down, Adam and Eve on a raft, and let ‘em walk” by Dan Carlinsky, Compass, pg. 3, col. 2:
BURN THE BRITISH. Toasted English muffin. See LIMEY.
Hash House Lingo:
The Slang of Soda Jerks, Short-Order Cooks, Bartenders, Waitresses, Carhops and Other Denizens of Yesterday’s Roadside
By Jack Smiley
Edited by Paul Dickson
Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc.,
2012 (Originally published in 1941)
BURN: Omitted from Jack Smiley’s original Hash House Lingo is an entry for burn meaning to cook. This call can be disconcerting if one is not prepared for it. A friend of the annotator who was born in Scotland and moved to the U.S. as a young man loves to tell the story of the first time he ate in an American diner and heard a waitress call across the room and tell her counterman to “Burn the British.” He recalls, “I didn’t realize she was asking for a toasted English muffin, and for one very quick moment I thought I’d stumbled on some hotbed of anti-British feeling.”
“Burn the British”- the only way my dad now orders toasted english muffins #awesome..
11:42 PM - 24 Jan 2013
The Delicious Guide to Diner Lingo
by Daniel Adler on September 1, 2015
Burn the British, and draw one in the dark Toasted English Muffin (Burn the British) with black coffee (Draw ... dark)