What Does Diner Mean?

Whenever anyone tells me they’re going to a “Diner,” a million different things pop into my head. We all have associations with the word Diner. The word itself brings up so many different connections. Personally I think about quick breakfasts at 2am…

In fact, I would say with every person’s ecology there are certain associations we automatically make with just the name (ex. Brooklyn Underground which we all called grungy).  The words we use to describe our ecologies and the things we associate with these titles actually might say a lot.

I was especially intrigued by this idea after reading Gregory Bateson’s Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Part V: Epistemology and Ecology. He touched on the idea of words; he uses the classic example of the word “tree.” The word “tree” signifies the concept of what we believe to be a tree. However this concept only exists within the realms of a certain culture. Meaning the word “tree” only has meaning because we gave it meaning. The word is not strictly representative of what it is. Nothing about an actual tree justifies the name tree. The label seems essentially random. So our word “tree” signifies our image of a tree.

Not only do we have the concept of tree with the word “tree,” but we also have cultural connotations about what a tree means and represents. We associate a tree with a variety of other ideas. For example, people can see a tree and think of life, freshness, growth, etc. It is this idea that I found so interesting when considering my ecology.

The word “Diner” itself is fascinating to think about. The first definition we have is obvious to us, a place where people eat. The actual word “diner” is associated with food in our culture. To dine is to eat. But then there are the associations that go beyond our language.

What would you associate a diner with? Is it a nice family restaurant? Is it a grungy place where creeps eat at 4am? Is it a place that serves classic American food? Is it a place that serves stale or not-cooked-enough food? For me, it is a mixture of all of these. I distinctively remember my first experience at a diner where I ordered pancakes (at 11pm), and within the first cut I was greeted with a stream of uncooked batter. That image has stuck very clearly in my head, leading me to make associations with the word diner. We all have our own associations, and then there are the associations we have as a culture.

So when I say “Diner” it is not actually a diner, but the image we have created of a diner. The word itself has no relation to an actual diner as we just decided to randomly call it that. The word represents the concept of the diner and with that comes the associations we make.


Bateson, Gregory. “Part V: Epistemology and Ecology.” Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York: Ballantine Books, 1972. 406-473. Print.

Ashley Flor

~ by ashleyflor on October 16, 2013.