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February 21, 2008

Slang of the Week: honey wagon (noun phrase)
1. a trailer used as a dressing room and/or bathroom on film locations 2. a vehicle that removes waste from portable toilets 3. a farm wagon used to spread manure on fields

Though Ralph was unhurt in the honey wagon crash, the gas masks worn by the Hazmat team that came to clean up made him suspect his blind date after work might not go as well as he’d hoped.

Celebrity quote:
“A big-budget movie would have parked their honey-wagons up and down the island. And the island would have shut them down.”
— Filmmaker Thomas Hildreth, discussing the logistics of shooting a low-budget film on remote Vinalhaven Island, Maine

Many years ago, I worked on a movie for PBS’s American Playhouse series, and one of my less glamorous duties was to procure honey wagons. (Actually, all of my duties were pretty unglamorous; I was also responsible driving peevish actors to doctor’s appointments and entertaining an elderly woman we’d temporarily evicted so that we could use her house as a set.)

I thought honey wagon was a peculiar nickname the first time I heard it, since it sounds more like a dessert service. While I haven’t seen any etymological data on this, I would imagine the name comes from its earlier use in farming. As the saying goes, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” Similarly, you can attract an equal, if not greater, number of flies with a truck full of manure.

Apparently, carts that had that appearance were sometimes given the name even when their function was different. In Wakefield, Virginia, The Honey Wagon is a toy store specializing in farm toys. According to the owner, Donald Magee, the display model parked out front “was never used to haul manure. We used it to spread peanut vines. But that's what everybody called ’em, honey wagons.”

In terms of the Hollywood variety, there are more functions completely unrelated to the euphemistic name. In a 2006 article in London’s Sunday Times, theatrical agent Tony Gerrard explains that they can also be used as an escape mechanism: “That scene [in Extras] where they crowd around Orlando Bloom for his autograph would never happen. If an extra pestered a star he'd flee to his honey wagon until the offender was removed.”

Take a look in our bookstore for books and DVDs on all kinds of slang! This week’s pick: Talk the Talk: The Slang of 65 American Subcultures by Luc Reid.