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Going deep into the weeds

It's an idiom that means one thing for waiters and another thing for wonks.

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"Call me if you get really overwhelmed," I recall one of my editors saying not long ago, as we discussed a project with a tight schedule. "Let me know if you end up 'in the weeds,' as they say."

Do they indeed say that? I suppose they do. And now that I've heard it once, I've been hearing it everywhere.

In the weeds is restaurant slang used to describe a server who is hopelessly behind.

An online glossary of restaurant terms puts it like this: "A colloquial expression used when persons are near or beyond their capacity to handle a situation or cannot catch up. Struggling. Very busy."

It's curious that an outdoorsy image should be so closely associated with a line of work that is done mostly inside.

But no doubt about it, in the weeds is restaurant lingo. It's the name of a blog devoted to issues of restaurant service.

One recent post was a cautionary tale on the topic of "missing sides": "I know it happens where I work a lot. Sides are missing.... If you order extra grilled onions or mushrooms, or an extra side, for some reason, it does not make it. It should not happen, but it does. Be prepared that it could happen to you!"

"In the Weeds" was also the title of a 2000 flick starring Joshua Leonard and Molly Ringwald. It has been characterized by a reviewer on the Internet Movie Database as a "medium rare" restaurant flick – by which he obviously meant, not well done.

It's understandable why the phrase in the weeds should mean "lost." What's less easy to see is why it refers so specifically to a restaurant.

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