According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, "86" is a slang term that is used in the American popular culture as a transitive verb to mean throw out or get rid of, particularly in the food service industry as a term to describe an item no longer available on the menu, or to refuse service to a customer. The Merriam Webster dictionary suggests the term may be associated with the word "nix" ("no" or a more general prohibition).
Several possible origins of the term 86 were suggested, all dated before the 1950s:
electrician slang. In 1928, all electrical components of the power system then being installed across the United States were given standardized numbers to show their functional use on all electrical power system circuit diagrams. In the design of electrical power systems, the ANSI Standard Device Numbers (ANSI/IEEE Standard C37.2) denote what features a protective device supports (such as a relay or circuit breaker). These types of devices protect electrical systems and components from damage when an unwanted event occurs, such as an electrical fault. Device numbers are used to identify the functions of devices shown on a schematic diagram of a substation. Function descriptions are given in the standard. ANSI/IEEE C37.2-2008 is one of a continuing series of revisions of the standard, which originated in 1928. An 86 device is a LOCKOUT breaker or LOCKOUT relay, meaning a type of relay that must deliberately and manually be reset to avoid remote resetting without physical inspection. Linemen and other power system technicians familiar with the term were working their way across America as the country was electrified. The term "being 86ed" could have originated from their tendency to be 86ed (thrown out or locked out) of bars or other establishments.
United States Navy decommissioning. Another possible origin is from the U.S. Navy's Allowance Type (AT) coding system used for logistic purposes. The allowance type code is a single digit numeric that identifies the reason material is being carried in stock. Throughout the life-cycle of a warship, many pieces of equipment will be upgraded or replaced, requiring the allowance of onboard spare parts associated to the obsolete equipment to be disposed of. The AT code assigned to parts designated for disposal is AT-6. Following World War II, there were a great number of warships being decommissioned, sold, scrapped, or deactivated and placed in reserve (commonly referred to as "mothballed"). During this process, labor workers would bring spare parts up from the storerooms and the lead supply clerk would inform them what the disposition of their parts were by part number. Anything referred to as AT-6 (or by similar phonetic, eighty-six) was to be disposed of in the dumpster. This is where the term became synonymous with throwing something away.
Looking north at Chumley's, 86 Bedford St, West Village.
86 Bedford Street. Author Jef Klein points to the bar Chumley's at 86 Bedford Street in the West Village of Lower Manhattan, as a source. Klein's 2006 book The History and Stories of the Best Bars of New York tells the story that, when the police would very kindly call ahead before a prohibition-era raid, they would tell the bartender to '86' his customers, meaning they should scram out the 86 Bedford door, while the police would come to the Pamela Court entrance.
Empire State Building suicides. Historians believe the term 86ed is most likely associated with the Empire State Building. The first or lower elevators only went as far as the observation promenade on the 86th floor, and sometimes people would jump off the 86th floor to commit suicide.
Camera filter. The term 86 may come from the movie business in Hollywood. When shooting on colour film, a camera needs an 85 filter (amber in colour) to balance the daylight. When moving indoors under tungsten light the filter is removed or replaced with a clear filter and this was referred to as the 86 filter.
Today, the term "86", and especially its past participle, "86ed" is widely used in American culture and beyond.
1933, The most widely accepted theory of the term's origin states it derives from a code supposedly used in some restaurants in the 1930s, wherein 86 was a shortform among restaurant workers for 'We're all out of it.' Snippets of said code were published in newsman Walter Winchell's column in 1933, where it was presented as part of a "glossary of soda-fountain lingo."
1944, According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first verifiable use of 86 in the 'refuse service to' sense dates to a 1944 book about John Barrymore, a movie star of the 1920s famous for his acting and infamous for his drinking: "There was a bar in the Belasco building ... but Barrymore was known in that cubby as an 'eighty-six'. An 'eighty-six', in the patois of western dispensers, means: 'Don't serve him.'"
1957, whether it was the catalyst that propelled '86' into American popular culture or just helped reinforce it, Gore Vidal's play Visit to a Small Planet was a well-received comedy whose main character uses the command number "86" numerous times to destroy things. It was first shown on the Goodyear Television Playhouse in 1955 as a television play. In February 1957, it was released on New York City's Broadway as a very popular, Tony Award winning play, with actor Eddie Mayehoff, which ran for 388 performances at the Booth Theatre Thereafter, the play was released as a movie: Visit to a Small Planet, starring Jerry Lewis, was released in late 1960 and re-released in 1966 on a double billing. Lewis played the part of Kreton, an alien with special powers. To activate his powers, he used number commands, one of which was 86 and that destroyed things. He kills a plant by saying "eighty-six" and later threatens to kill someone with the same command number.
In 1965, the spy spoof TV series Get Smart chose 86 as the number of its bumbling agent protagonist, thus the missions he worked on were "86'd".
In 1968, when Norman Mailer had a week-long party in the East Hamptons, the July 31, The New York Times article titled "Mailer Film party Real Bash: 1 Broken Jaw, 2 Bloody Heads" by Anthony Lukas includes ""He told me, 'You're 86'd,'" Mr. Smith recalled yesterday. This is a barroom phrase that means "you're banned in here."
In 1973, Thomas Pynchon, in Gravity's Rainbow, used the term "86" in the line "They did finally 86 him out of Massachusetts Bay Colony." (The use of the term by characters in the novel, which takes place in 1944, is anachronistic.)
In 1975, Charles Bukowski uses the term 86'd in the novel Factotum to describe being outed from a bar, "We were 86'd, walked down the street looking for another bar."
In 1975, Tom Waits uses the term 86'd in his song "Eggs and Sausage (In a Cadillac with Susan Michelson)" on the album Nighthawks at the Diner in the line "I've been 86'd from your scheme".
In the 1978 film, The Bad News Bears Go to Japan, a sportscaster, when instructed to "shut up about the crowd," is subsequently told to "86 the attendance."
In the late 1970s, The New York Times columnist Millstein frequently used the term 86'd in his articles. In the October 26, 1977 article, "A Night on the Tiles at Berry's," he writes, "(He'd been 86'd out of another place owned by the Reisdorffs for tweaking a man's nose only a short while before.)" and in the April 26, 1978 article, "Bistro: The View From the Grill; All in a day's work: burgers and Schopenhauer" he writes, "Sometimes somebody who is 86'd, a term that means the person is kicked out ..."
In the 1980s in the TV series Dallas, JR Ewing says to his wife Sue-Ellen: "Well, did the bars close? Or were you just 86'ed?"
In the 1985 Golden Girls episode "Blanche and the Younger Man", Blanche tells the waiter to "86 the salad" when she discovers that her much younger date sees her only as a mother-figure.
In 1987, in the Disney movie, The Brave Little Toaster, Lampy says, "That's it, it's over, I'm burned out, 86'd, to the showers!" when telling Toaster about the first time his bulb burned out.
Filmmaker Dave Markey made a documentary about the final tour of the infamous hardcore punk band Black Flag, entitled Reality 86'd. The movie was filmed in 1986, during the band's final tour, but wasn't released until 1991.
In 1989, David B. Feinberg, published the novel "Eighty-sixed" contrasting life in New York just before HIV to life in 1986 when AIDS had become a major health crisis in the city.
In 1992, the movie Batman Returns uses the term, where the character Max Shreck says to Bruce Wayne about the Penguin "if his parents hadn't 86'ed him, you two could have been prep school buddies".
In the 1992 film Out on a Limb, Matt Skearns (played by Jeffrey Jones) tells his dead twin brother and Buzzsaw mayor, Peter Van Der Haven (also played by Jeffrey Jones) after killing him what his plans are, the second of which he says "I'm gonna 86 your family!" after burying him and before going to the bank to take the $150,000 his brother was supposed to pay him after spending 15 years in prison for a crime his brother committed.
The term was used occasionally in the television series Northern Exposure. In the 1993 episode "Jaws of Life" John Cullum's character, Holling Vincoeur, owner of the "Brick" bar, uses the term "eighty-six" on Chris Stevens (played by John Corbett), who is drunk and is insulting other guests. It was used again in the 1994 episode "Up River" when Chris fires his building contractor.
In the 1995 film Casino Sam Rothstein receives a call from his casino about Nicky Santoro visiting the place with nobody telling him 'he was eighty-sixed from the joint'.
The name of the hard rock/post-hardcore band Project 86 (formed in 1996) references this term.
The British indie-rock band Subcircus released a single titled "86'd" in 1997.
In 1998 in season 6, episode 1 (no.121) of Frasier, the line, "86 the spring rolls. Bring me the frickin' turkey!", is uttered by Frasier.
In the 1998 film The X-Files, a bartender informs Agent Mulder that she will no longer serve him drinks by saying, "Looks like 86 is your lucky number."
In 1999 movie, Runaway Bride, Julia Roberts' character, Maggie Carpenter, mending a hairdresser's chair, ask Cindy:"Cindy, can you 86 Sprout? He's licking up all the petroleum distillates I'm trying to put in."(Sprout being Cindy's dog.)Cindy answers : "Oh, sorry. She's an obedience school dropout."
In Phineas and Ferb, in the "Suddenly Suzy" episode, Isabella told Bufford to 86 the gum before he went on the log flume ride that they built.
In the Codename: Kids Next Door cartoon, one of the child agents has codename 86 and is the grumpy head of the decommissioning center, thus having the job of eighty-sixing the other child agents.
In the season eightX-Files episode Vienen, Agent Mulder informs Agent Doggett that he has been let go from the FBI by saying, in response to a ringing telephone in his office, "That is the Deputy Director calling to tell you there is no need to see you. That the blame has been properly assigned for what happened out on that platform. I'm out. 86'd, Agent Doggett."
In 2006 the episode of Supernatural titled "Bloodlust," the term is used by a bartender when describing a group of people.
In the 2008 final issue of Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra's graphic novel, "Y: The Last Man", the main character, Yorick Brown, jokes about a recent suicide attempt of ambiguous intent, saying that he did it because he "...was eighty-fived and about to be eighty-sixed."
In 2008, in Unalaska, Alaska, the sign outside of the Unisea bar read "If you fight on these premises, you will be 86'd for an indefinite period of time."
In a July 16, 2009 Chicago Tribune article "Sweet & Savories restaurant pares prices but not the flavor" food critic Phil Vettel writes, "You'll always find steak frites on the menu, and I imagine if Richards 86'd the lobster risotto there would be rioting."
Dan Fante's 2009 novel, 86'd, is about a man who gets fired and battles his alcoholism.
In a February 2, 2010 article in The New York Times, columnist Glenn Collins quoted the Pegu Club's owner as saying; "... she immediately "86'd the Earl Gray" – ceased serving it – because of the seriousness of the violation and because the inspector recommended..."
On the January 30, 2012 edition of WWE Raw, CM Punk told John Laurinaitis he couldn't wait for Triple H to "86 him". Laurianitis's job as interim general manager of Raw was up for review that night, and Triple H, being the COO, had the power to fire him.
Poker player Doyle Brunson claims that the term originated from the old days of Las Vegas, referring to the mob's practice of taking someone to the desert outside Las Vegas and executing him "8 miles out and 6 feet down."
In the musical Little Shop of Horrors, during the song "Feed Me," Audrey 2 says, "There must be someone you can 86? Real quiet like..." while trying to convince Seymour to bring him more blood to eat.
In the 2002 film, Maid in Manhattan, Jennifer Lopez's character utters the phrase "86 the coat. It sends the message you're going somewhere," to Natasha Richardson's character.
In 2010 episode title "Last Call", Beckett and Castle are questioning a bartender. The bartender tells them Pete was "86'd" for life and last night he showed up drunk causing a scene. Beckett also uses it again, telling Castle So Donnie 86'd Pete for life. Castle then says "Looks like he returned the favor".
In 2011, in the TV show Dexter, Season 6 Episode 7 titled "Nebraska", the term '86'd' is used regarding the disappearance of a body.
In 2013 Gordon Ramsay aka Chef RamsayKitchen Nightmares Season 6 Episode 16 addresses the diners at Amy's Baking Company regarding the ravioli the bistro serves. Chef Ramsay asks the diners "So would you mind, personally if I 86'd them (ravioli meals) to stop you from eating crap?" The diners agree therefore preventing any more ravioli meals from being served that night because it was store bought frozen ravioli and not freshly made.
In the 2013 episode Live and let dine of the TV show Archer, possibly in a reference to Gordon Ramsay (above), Sterling Archer yells "86 the soup!" after dropping a bowl in the kitchen.
In a 2013 episode of the TV show Arrow, the character Felicity asked by a casino boss about the origin of the term "86," and replies that it came from an illegal casino that once operated at 86 Bedford Street.
In Chapter 14 of the Netflix show, House of Cards (U.S. TV series), a video depicting a character's death was "86ed" and not publicly released by media outlets out of respect to the family of the character.
From the TV show Smallville, Season 4, Episode 19, titled "Blank", term 86 used in reference to Clark's memory.
In the Adult Swim cartoon The Venture Bros., Season 3, Episode 4, titled "Home is Where the Hate is", Sgt. Hatred calls for his troops to 86 the non lethals and to go full nurf on account of the rubber bullets piercing Doctor Venture's skin.
In the video game Call of Duty: Ghosts, R. Lee Ermey provides the voice of a drill instructor for the multiplayer component. One of his phrases when a player earns a kill with the Loki satellite is "Target 86'd!"
In the movie 'Fury' starring Brad Pitt about a WWII tank crew, at approx 1hr25min he states: "the radio is 86..." when describing a non functional communications device.
In 2015, in the TV show The Mentalist, Season 7, Episode 8, titled "The Whites of His Eyes". Patrick cancels the chicken wings he ordered earlier by asking the waitress to 86 the chicken wings.
In the 2015 song "The Remedy" by Puscifer, a line states "trolls receive 86's".
In 2015, in Elementary (TV series) Season 3, Episode 14, titled "The Female of the Species", Holmes tells the tale of patrons of Chumley's speakeasy being 86'd out of the back door to escape police. He then goes on to say how alcohol was taken in to the bar through a series of tunnels leading to the surrounding buildings.
In 2015, in Gotham (TV series) Season 2, Episode 9, titled "A Bitter Pill to Swallow", when seeking an operative to kill Jim Gordon, the concierge at an underground casino interrupts play at the craps table by catching the dice mid-toss and asking "Who wants a shot at 86ing one of Gotham's finest?".
In 2015 Obihai Technology introduced an *86 function, which adds the caller of a just concluded call to a private block list on their telephony modem.