"Pearl diver” is a nickname for a person who washes dishes—someone who “dives” for dishes in hot, greasy water. ‘Pearl diver” has been cited in print since at least 1908, when the Kansas City (MO) Star noted this Texas slang in the advertisement, “Pearl diver wanted—Apply at the Lone Star Cafe.”
Other names for a person who washes dishes include “bubble dancer” and “dish pig.”
(Oxford English Dictionary)
pearl diver, n.
slang (orig. and chiefly U.S.). A person who washes dishes in a cafe or restaurant.
1907 Boston Sunday Globe 10 Mar. 64/4 Pearl diver wanted… ‘The cafe was not in need of a diver when I applied, but the cashier explained the duties of the job. The diver was the dishwasher; just the Texas slang for the occupation.’
1913 E. A. Brown Broke iii. 29, I am in line for a pearl~diver’s (dishwasher’s) job tomorrow.
15 March 1908, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, pg. 3a, col. 7:
Pearl Diver in Texas
“Pearl diver wanted—Apply at the Lone Star Cafe.”
“The cafe was not in need of a diver when I applied, but the cashier explained the duties of the job. The diver was the dishwasher; just the Texas slang for the occupation.”—Kansas City Star.
6 June 1915, Idaho Statesman (Boise, ID), “The Dictionary of the Hobo” by Jeff Davis, second section, pg. 3, col. 3:
Pearl Diver.—A dish washer.
Google News Archive
14 January 1921, The Evening News (San Jose, CA), “Easy to Read Character and Ability If You Know How” by Edith Daley, pg. 6, col. 3:
“The dish washer is known as a ‘pearl diver.’”
Slang to-day and yesterday, with a short historical sketch and vocabularies of English, American, and Australian slang
By Eric Partridge
New York, NY: Macmillan Co.
Pearl Diver. A dish-washer ( — 1920).
Pilchuck, the Life of a Mountain
By Harry Wentworth Higman and Earl J. Larrison
Seattle, WA: Superior Pub. Co.
From my standpoint as official pearl- diver, the meal was a tough one, for macaroni demands much dish-water and I had little, but I persevered and I think my finished work would have stood any inspection.
American Tramp and Underworld Slang
By Godfrey Irwin
Ann Arbor, MI: Gryphon Books
PEARL DIVER. — A dish-washer; a clownish reference to the worker who “dives” for the dishes in a large vat or pan of hot, greasy water.
New York City • Restaurants/Bars/Bakeries/Food Stores • Wednesday, February 13, 2013 • Permalink