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Posted by Bob on November 17, 2002

In Reply to: 86 posted by R. Berg on November 13, 2002

: : : I've had the message below by email. The term '86' isn't used in the UK so I'm hoping you US folk (call out the Yobs) can confirm the meaning.

: : : Start of email message..........
: : : You have the origin of this famous phrase correct but way off in its meaning. I was born in NY and my Grandfather has told me more than a few stories about Chumley's Bar. During proabition, 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"
: : :
: : : This term means to slip away or to leave quickly.

: : 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."

: : There's some discussion of other theories on the origin under "nix" in the archives including a post on Aug. 30, 2002. I've never heard the term "in real life." I guess it could mean "leave quickly." But from Mr. Flexner's description it sounds more like a person is thrown out of a place.

: I've heard (and read) "eighty-sixed" only to mean thrown out. My impression is that it's typically used in the passive: "Darrell crashed Ron's party and was eighty-sixed." I haven't heard 86 used with the meaning of leaving a place voluntarily.

86 is still used in restaurants (in the US) to alert the waitstaff not to accept any orders for a menu item that the kitchen has run out of, as in "86 the veal." By coincidence, I was in a restaurant today, and saw a write on/wipe off message board at the kitchen entrance with "86" and two items listed below it.

  • 86 Jake 12/14/02
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