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Re: Eight theories on 86

Posted by ESC on April 14, 2004

In Reply to: Eighty six posted by halley on April 14, 2004

: I was going to let the poor origin of "bad har day" slide as being attributable to buffy the vampire slayer, (sorry term is old as dirt on this side of the ocean) but THEN I came across the meaning and origin of 86. first, it means that you have run out of something, commonly used in the restaurant industry, eg. "86 baked potatos" when the kitchen has run out. though "cut off" seems to be a likely version as well. HOWEVER, the history going back to chumly's is correct in identifying them with the first to coin the phrase, BUT it's history lies in prohibition era america, as it had two separate entrances leading to different streets, when the cops would come, the bartender would shout "86" and the customers would run out the opposite door.

1. Perhaps from Chumley's Bar and restaurant at 86 Bedford Street in Greenwich Village NYC.

And from the archives:

2. During prohibition, Chumley's had several secret hide-a-ways and secret exits including one to an alley off 86th street. This was a quick exit if they were raided. Hence the term "eighty six the joint."

3. "Since the 1850s waiters and cooks have been communicating by verbal shorthand... 86, rhymes with and means 'nix,' usually called out from cook to waiter or waitress, meaning 'we're all out of it, we don't have any.' Also used to mean 'no sale' and as a code meaning a person is not to be served, because he is broke, drunk, etc." From "Lunch-Counter Terms," in "Listening to America" by Stuart Berg Flexner (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982).

4. During culinary school, I was told it was for the trash barges. They were required to reach 86 fathoms before dispersing their load. "86 and out."

5. An alternative possibility for the source of this phrase, as I have had it, is that '86 is the year they ran out of gold in California. '49, as in forty-niner, is the year gold was discovered in California.

6. I've heard the expression comes from the custom of saloons of old serving 100 proof whiskey to their "men" customers. If someone got too drunk and obnoxious they were then served only 86 proof whiskey, which was such a disgrace among the other "men" present that their embarrassment forced them to flee the bar.

(And someone responded: I would disagree based on (among other things) the fact that, to the best of my knowledge, there is only one type of whiskey made at the 100 proof level and that is bonded Kentucky bourbon. 86 proof is historically the strength of whiskey. How could it be a disgrace to drink it? Plus if you are drunk and obnoxious, what do you care? Ever tried to humiliate a drunk?)

7. I have read this theory (86 proof) before but I find it hard to credit. I do like it better than "French soldiers were issued 85 bullets. When you ran out you were 86'd."

8. I first heard the term 86 in a bar in 1946 in LA, CA when a girl was barred from entering a tavern. She was said to be 86`d. I soon after went to Germany for several years and never heard the term there. What was heard from time to time was a German saying acht und achtzig (means 88) H is the eighth letter of the alphabet and it was a diehard German`s way of saying Heil Hitler on the QT.