Posted by R. Berg on October 09, 2001

In Reply to: Eighty sixed posted by Q on October 08, 2001

: : : Can someone tell me where this originated and/ or the intended meaning ? I know it's similar to getting the ax but I would like to know where these terms started. Thanks

: : Listening to America: An Illustrated History of Words and Phrases from Our Lively and Splendid Past by Stuart Berg Flexner (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982) has several pages devoted to "Lunch-Counter Terms." Mr. Flexner says, "Since the 1850s waiters and cooks have been communicating by verbal shorthand..."

: : There are several terms listed including numbers such as "86." "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."

: : New York City may very well be the source of some of these terms. Mr. Flexner uses a picture of an old New York restaurant as an illustration.

: : Among the other number terms -- 95, a customer is leaving without paying, stop him. 99, the boss. 98, his or her assistant.

: From 4-20-00 post:
: "An alternative possibility for the source of this phrase 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."

I'm skeptical. My father was mining gold in California in the 1940s, and doing well enough at it to support the family.