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Posted by ESC on April 21, 2000

In Reply to: 86 posted by Bruce Harris Bentzman on April 20, 2000

: In SHU's list of phrases, I find the following explanation for "86":
: >
: 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.

Searching under "eighty-six," it says "Perhaps from Chumley's bar and restaurant at 86 Bedford Street in Greenwich Village NYC."

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.

Here's a term our host might (or might not) enjoy: "Burn the British -- a toasted English muffin (packaged English muffins for toasting in a toaster became popular in America in the late 1950s, the name catching on rapidly, even though they are neither English nor muffins.)"

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