Fans of Frasier, which ran for eleven seasons on NBC beginning in 1993, will recognize the title of this post from the show’s iconic closing theme. The song’s composer, Bruce Miller, explained that tossed salad and scrambled eggs represented Frasier Crane’s psychiatric patients in that they were “mixed up.” Had the show premiered three years later, Miller might have had to change the lyrics: 1996 was when HBO aired its Prisoners of the War on Drugs documentary and the anilingual sense of “toss my salad” entered the unincarcerated public consciousness through this man:
For those of you who don’t want to watch this video, he says—No, you know what? Just watch the damn video. I’ll wait.
The expression might not have gained popularity had Chris Rock not talked about “Tossed Salad Man” in his Bring the Pain HBO comedy special, which aired later that same year:
1996 may have been the year our view of salads became tainted (sorry), but the expression had been kicking around the US prison community for a while before then, and “toss a salad” meaning “to lick or suck anus” has an entry in Bruce Rodgers’s 1972 edition of The Queens’ Vernacular: A Gay Lexicon. Anilingus has historically been used to humiliate or establish dominance over someone: Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen describes the practice among prisoners in his 1668 novel, Simplicius Simplicissimus, about the Thirty Years’ War. Although “Tossed Salad Man” used “toss my salad” to refer to this kind of degrading anilingus, we now use it to refer to consensual encounters as well.
So what makes “toss my salad” linguistically *cough* interesting?
First, as you’ll undoubtedly have noticed, the semantic distance between “toss my salad” and “eat out my ass” is huge. Gaping, even. Most online forums discussing the expression include (a) someone wondering how it originated and (b) someone else going ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Green’s Dictionary of Slang speculates that the prisoner practice of anilingus using condiments may relate to tossed salad because of “the general mixing of flesh and embellishments,” but it has no definitive answer. Fact is, a lot of terms in prison slang have little semantic similarity with their referents—hamburger meaning a ten-year sentence, rock spider meaning child molester. This characteristic makes a lot of intuitive sense: prisoners are under constant scrutiny by correctional officers and others outside of their community—when they want to communicate among themselves, they’re motivated to make their slang hard to decipher.
This semantic distance may be why we can still write “tossed salad” on menus and in cookbooks without ruffling any feathers or eliciting juvenile giggling. What also helps is that “tossing salad” in the anilingual context is a partly fixed expression in that toss alone isn’t used to mean eat/suck/kiss/lick, nor is salad alone used to refer to ass. We don’t (usually) hear about someone “tossing pussy” or “getting their salad kicked.”
Salad possession is also a noteworthy (though not critical) feature of the prisoner’s wording: he says “toss my salad”—whoever possesses the salad is the one receiving the rimjob. Using another determiner, even the, would pluck it out of the realm of the double entendre. Replacing my with this would make this children’s book cover at least 60 percent less creepy:
Speaking of kids’ entertainment, Blue’s Clues knew the deal (starting at 9:57):
Now, then, if “tossed salad” means anilingus, “scrambled eggs” must mean…
Thanks to Mister Slang, Jonathon Green, for contributing his insights to this post.