Pigeon milk and pidgin under stress

A party of Settler customers in a Northern California Chinese restaurant decide it’s funny to horse around with the difference between their own English and their host’s…

pigeon milk

(Image credit: Pinterest)

…So, spiced with various racist insults, their order calls for “a glass of pigeon-milk”, “a barrel of homoeopathic soup”, and “a hat full of bricks”.

Their waiter, who is the owner of the place, finally stops them:

pideon milk

What you mean by pigeon milk, homopatty soup, and de brick? How you cook him, gentlemen?

A roar burst from the table, and the shrewd Asiatic saw in a moment that they were hoaxing his subordinates.

The gentleman make you all d—-d fool!” said he rushing again into the smoky recess of his culinary department; but whether he meant that the gentlemen were making fools of his waiters or themselves, remains one of the uncertainties consequent upon a Chinaman’s incorrect knowledge of our language.

— from “Celestial Lingo — by Solitaire” in the San Francisco (CA) Transcript of October 8, 1850, page 2, column 5

For me as a researcher of West Coast pidgin languages, this is of interest, as the owner’s English can be described as an accommodation between Chinese Pidgin English and standard English. In fact, earlier in the article, his speech is even more standard. So it’s quite something that the presumably White customers (“gentlemen”) chose to poke fun at that.

Under stress, the owner’s speech perhaps reverts to a style that he has longer experience and greater comfort with — and then it starts showing CPE features such as “how you cook him” and (I’m saying this in seriousness) “damned fool“. That last bit is an unexpected trait, cussing, that I’ve consistently found documented in West Coast CPE.

What do you think?