Lazy Susan; dumbwaiter

Posted by Bruce Kahl on January 01, 2002

In Reply to: Lazy Susan; dumbwaiter posted by Jim on December 31, 2001

: : : : : The recent spate of holiday dining leads naturally to a curiousity of why a circular, pivoting relish tray is called a lazy susan. My dictionary only provides a definition. Any sources available?

: : : : I couldn't find a definitive answer. LAZY SUSAN - "The British call our 'lazy Susan' a dumbwaiter, which the revolving servitor was called in America until relatively recently. It is said that the first use of the term dates back to about 75 years ago when the device was named after some servant it replaced, Susan being a common name for servants at the time. But the earliest quotation that has been found for lazy Susan is in 1934, and it could be the creation of some unheralded advertising copywriter. Therefore, 'lazy' may not mean a lazy servant at all, referring instead to a hostess too lazy to pass the snacks around, or to the ease with which guests can rotate the device on the spindle and bring the sections containing different foods directly in front of them." From the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).

: : : : I thought a "dumbwaiter" was a little elevator that was used to bring trays of food from the basement kitchen up to the main floor.

: : The only DumbWaiter I'm aware of who served at table and had a level of notoriety was a fellow called Hector MacAdam who served, sullenly but with consummate efficiency, at the Savoy Grill in London in the 1920's and 30's - my grandfather told endless tales of his dark silences. Otherwise dumbwaiters are food elevators. The Lazy Susan is not common in England: it is, not to put too fine a point on it, a naff device and would condemn the host to ridicule.

: I don't own a lazy susan and my mother, who treasured hers, has passed, so I accept the insult of low manners in good humor. However, you used the phrase "naff device", which is uncommon in the former colonies. I understand the usage in context, but I wonder if you could put a finer point on the definition.

I just love using my many Lazy Susans, especially on July 4th. All of us are off from work that day and we congregate in backyards, beaches, parks etc. and we place our ketchup, relishes and mustards on our "naff devices" as we celebrate how a small bunch of rag-tag Colonists kicked the major butt of a country that ruled the seas.