‘one from column A (and) one from column B’

The American-English jocular phrase one, or two, etc., from column A (and) one, or two, etc., from column B alludes to the menus in Chinese restaurants, which list the available dishes in two columns, column A and column B.

Those menus were mentioned for example in an article about the forthcoming opening of a local Chinese restaurant, the Golden Star, published in the Intelligencer Journal (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) of Saturday 28th April 1956:

They’ll have full course dinners, combination dinners (one from column A, two from column B etc.), and a la carte specialties.

Likewise, the following is from an article about a local Chinese restaurant, the China Night, published in the Kings Courier (Brooklyn, New York) of Saturday 17th December 1960:

The China Night is open daily from 11 A.M. to 1 A.M. and 3 A.M. Saturday and Sunday. It features a “China Night Banquet Specialties” menu plus the regular family dinners with “one from column A and two from column B.”

Those menus were popularised by the U.S. comedian Buddy Hackett (Leonard Hacker – 1924-2003), who, from 1952 onwards, had a routine on a Chinese waiter taking an order from a table full of patrons. Norton Mockridge described this routine in The Evening News (Paterson, New Jersey) of Friday 23rd May 1969:

I suppose most of you have heard Buddy Hackett’s famous Chinese waiter routine. The one in which he explains to his customers that the available dishes are listed in two columns, Column A and Column B.
Then he goes along in burbling dialect to say something like: “You can have two dishes from Corumn A and two dishes from Corumn B, but not one dish from Corumn A and three dishes from Corumn B, and not three dishes from Corumn A and one dish from Corumn B, and not three dishes from Corumn B and one dish from Corumn A, and not four dishes from Corumn A, and none from Corumn B. . . .” And so on.

The two earliest occurrences of the phrase one, or two, etc., from column A (and) one, or two, etc., from column B explicitly allude to Buddy Hackett’s Chinese waiter routine:

1-: From the column My New York, by Mel Heimer, published in The Daily Notes (Canonsburg, Pennsylvania) of Tuesday 7th August 1956:

The Hotel Roosevelt’s Rib room […] is scheduled to open in September as a “unique specialty restaurant.” What this means, briefly, is that the only entree to be served at dinner will be roast beef. “The finest roast beef in the world,” the management reports, perhaps a trifle prematurely. Well, it can be another Chambord, but if I can’t have, in comedian Buddy Hackett’s phrase, my choice of “two from column A and one from column B,” I won’t be happy.

2-: From the column Broadway Showcase, by Paul E. Pepe, published in the Greenpoint Weekly Star (Brooklyn, New York) of Friday 26th October 1956:

We figured it would be kicks to mingle with the crowd at the annual Chinatown festival […]. We stood with the other neck-stretchers, watching the parade of Chinese beauties pass before us, envying the judges who sat smug and smiling on the judges stand […].
[…] One local wag, when asked how they picked the winner, said: “Just like Buddy Hackett says, one from Column A and one from Column B!”

The phrase occurs, without reference to Buddy Hackett, in the column It Happened Last Night, by Earl Wilson, published in several U.S. newspapers on Tuesday 2nd December 1958—for example in The Scranton Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania):

A first-nighter tells us the B’way musical, “Suzie Wong” (about a Chinese girl), is in three acts—two from column A, one from column B.

The phrase later occurs in Poor Arnold’s Almanac, a comic strip by Arnold Roth (born 1929), published in the Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) of Sunday 12th July 1959—the topic, that day, was the history of ice cream:

Marco Polo brought back improvements from China!
“’Ay, Marco, gimme a chocolats, vanillas, wonton & egg roll.”
“No, no! You get only one from column ‘A’ and two from column ‘B’…..”

'one from column A and two from column B' - Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) - 12 July 1959

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