Folk Speech – USA

“Saving the dishes.”

“Saving the dishes,” means to put dishes away in the cupboard after washing and drying them. It is a phrase commonly used in southern Louisiana and is the equivalent to putting away the dishes. It implies more of the actual action of placing the dishes in the cupboard than the literal meaning. “Saving the dishes” does not mean that the dishes are in danger, but that they must be neatly put away so that they can be used later. Although not a commonly heard or used phrase outside of Louisiana, Joe said that most inhabitants of the area would understand what is meant.

Joe told me that his mother told him about this phrase a couple of years ago. He remembers that they were having a conversation at a Vietnamese restaurant about various kinds of speech that they found strange. She told him that a lot of people from the South liked to say this phrase. His mother is from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. As a child whenever she would wash the dishes and put them away, her family would call that action “saving the dishes.” However, Joe’s mother disapproves of using that phrase because he calls her a “really proper newslady,” who prefers to use proper English. She considers it a very backward phrase to use and does not encourage Joe to use it either.

The phrase is used in place of saying, “putting away the dishes.” In fact, Joe’s grandmother always replaces “putting away the dishes” with “saving the dishes.” Generally, the phrase is used by the older generation from the South. However, it would be appropriate for both adults and children to use this phrase. Joe said a good example of when to use this phrase would be when one is done washing and drying the dishes and about to put away all the dinnerware. One could say that they are “saving the dishes” for another time.

Although, Joe himself does not use this phrase himself, he thinks that it is an interesting way to translate actions into words. He said that he would not recognize the true meaning of the phrase without a little bit of thought. When he first heard of “saving the dishes,” he could not fathom the meaning behind the phrase, probably because he is from Kentucky.

Besides his brief encounters with the phrase and the stories about his grandmother from his mother, Joe has no detailed background knowledge of its meaning. He assumes that the phrase probably originated from when African-Americans were still relatively marginalized. The dishes were presumed to be the nicest things they owned and were extremely valuable to them. Thus, the need to “save” them for the best occasions might be a common practice.

Joe’s interpretation of the phrase is probably on the right track. Since Louisiana is known for their different ways of speaking, also known as Cajun English, it is understandable that they would have their own phrases. The area has been influenced by many different cultures, such as the French and the Spanish. Also the area is densely populated with African-Americans who probably did value dishes. But considering the multiple meanings of save, I am not surprised that the word was chosen in place of putting away. According to Oxford American Dictionary, the word “save” can mean to keep safe or rescue or to keep and store up. A century ago (if the phrase has been around that long), dishes might really have been in danger of being broken and ruined, and the phrase might have actually used the first definition. However, in present-day, I think that the phrase has evolved to operate based more on the second definition.