July 24, 2004


Ravitch's "The Language Police" has a curious (and, admittedly, throw-away) passage in an Afterword complaining about the supposedly PC use of "waitron" instead of waiter or waitress:

One [reader] pointed out that The Merriam-Webster Dictionary and The American Heritage Dictionary suggested the word "waitron" as a worthy replacement for "waiter" or "waitress". Dictionary editors always say that they aim to reflect usage and the spoken language, but I have found only one person who has ever heard of the word "waitron". Ask for a waitron in a restaurant, and you are more likely to get a blank stare than someone to take your order.

Is she kidding? It might be true of the circles she inhabits on the Right Coast (or in all those large stretches of the flyover states between here and there), but it displays a weirdly tin ear for language as she is spoke in these parts. I first heard "waitron" here in the Bay Area in the late 1980's, usually used as a wry way to simultaneously comment on a dehumanising job, and to tweak the nose of the then-nascent PC movement (the waitron-as-robot implications were usually the main point, though). It's a usage that's been common currency for at least a decade, and while it doesn't deserve the description "worthy" (with all the baggage that comes with such a, well, worthy label), it's hardly odd that it'd be in one of the Websters or the AHD. It's an everyday usage here; it was in use in the suburban strip malls of Studio City the last time I was in the great Southlands; I've even heard it in Sydney.

(As for the rest of her book? I think it's mostly just an unintended illustration of the pointlessness of trying to produce uniform texts for widespread use in a widely-diverse country. Let a hundred flowers bloom, but let's cut down the tall poppies. Or something like that...).


At 7/26/2006 5:29 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We here in the south use the generic word Server in these modern times of non gender specific words

At 12/21/2011 9:55 pm, Anonymous Robert Nadeau said...

I have used waitron in a Boston restaurant column for more than a decade, in the perhaps mythish belief that a government bureaucracy, perhaps in my own state, first proposed it as a gender-free term.

At 12/24/2011 11:10 am, Blogger Jimmy Little said...

I have to admit "waitron" has sort of disappeared from the lexicon out here in the last few years (except used with heavy irony), but it was definitely in use on the Left Coast literally decades ago...


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