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I've only ever heard that phrase on teenage mutant Ninja turtles.

When I first came to the USA I was placing an order at Papa John’s Pizza over the phone and said “...oh and could you hold the cheese?” and the response by the employee was “light cheese?” which is what I meant.

Was the phrase only popular in a restricted time period or restricted geography?

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    I would understand the phrase, 'hold the cheese', to be a request to not apply cheese to a dish or meal, or to not apply the cheese so liberally thereto, or to literally physically hold an aforementioned or deictically referenced cheese. It seems to me the employee was referring to the second of my three interpretations.
    – JDF
    Feb 3, 2019 at 4:55
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    At sandwich shops in the United States, expressions of the type "hold the mayo[nnaise]" are common. The instruction was originally shouted by one employee (the order taker) to another (the food preparer), and I believe was understood to be short for "hold off on adding the mayonnaise [or mustard or onions or whatever the customer doesn't want] that we usually put in this type of sandwich." Eventually, customers picked up on the usage and started saying it themselves to the order taker.
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 3, 2019 at 6:00
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    It definitely does not mean, "put a smaller amount on." It means "don't put any on."
    – Jim
    Feb 3, 2019 at 6:56
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    Burger King had an ad jingle in the early 70's: "Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, special orders don't upset us..."
    – Jim
    Feb 3, 2019 at 6:59

2 Answers 2

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In American English, hold the X is a colloquialism that means "no X", that is, "don't put X on" my {food item}.

It is in an informal register. It would not typically be used in a "fine dining" restaurant where the chef takes great care in assembling the ingredients and flavors. It's the lingo of 24-hour diners and fast-food restaurants.

I'll have a BLT— and hold the mayo.

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The problem here is that it’s very strange to order a pizza without cheese. That’s probably why they said it on TMNT, sort of a throw-away joke, like when they order peanut butter and marshmallows on a pizza. But for a more common example, such as “salad, hold the dressing,” most likely you’d be understood. (In case it’s not already clear to other English speakers reading this, “hold” here means “don’t put it on my food.”) Still, I think it’s most common just to say “no cheese” (or, in the case of something you want to eat but don’t want placed on your entree, such as a sauce, “on the side”)

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  • Your answer sounds right. I had interpretted it as "restrain how much cheese you put on it," possibly as a New York slang. And yeah I remember the funny toppings like chocolate chip or caramel fudge. Feb 3, 2019 at 5:42

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