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According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, "86" is a slang term that is used in the American popular culture as a transitive verb in the food service industry as a term to describe an item no longer available on the menu. The Merriam Webster dictionary suggests the term may be associated with the word "nix" ("no" or a more general prohibition). "Nix" is related to the word "Nichts", which means "nothing" in the German language.
The term is part of restaurant slang, seen among restaurant workers in the 1930s, where 86 meant "we're all out of it." Walter Winchell published examples of similar restaurant slang in his newspaper column in 1933, which he presented as part of a "glossary of soda-fountain lingo."
Several possible origins of the term 86 have been suggested, all dated before the 1950s.
- United States Navy decommissioning: One possible origin is from the U.S. Navy's Allowance Type (AT) coding system used for logistics. The allowance type code is a single digit that identifies the reason that material is being carried in stock. Throughout the life-cycle of a warship, many pieces of equipment are upgraded or replaced, requiring onboard spare parts to be disposed of, and the code is AT-6 for parts designated for disposal. 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 up spare parts from the storerooms and the supply clerk would tell them the AT code. Anything to be disposed of was referred to as AT-6— which is pronounced the same as "86".
- 86 Bedford Street: Author Jef Klein theorizes that the bar Chumley's at 86 Bedford Street in the West Village of Lower Manhattan was the source. Klein's 2006 book The History and Stories of the Best Bars of New York claims that the police would call Chumley's bar during prohibition before making a raid and tell the bartender to "86" his customers, meaning that they should exit out the 86 Bedford Street door, while the police would come to the Pamela Court entrance.
- Documented 1944 use: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first verifiable use of 86 in the sense of "refuse service to" 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.'"
- Electrical Protection: According to IEEE Std. C37.2-2008 (and previous versions of this standard which was originally published by the American Institute of Electrical Engineers [AIEE] as AIEE No. 26 in 1928), Device Number 86 is a lockout relay, which is a "device that trips and maintains the associated equipment or devices as inoperative until it is reset by an operator, either locally or remotely." In lay terms, an 86 device "locks out" a piece of electrical equipment, which is to say that it turns the equipment off so that it cannot restart until the appropriate person investigates the problem and then resets the 86 device.
Popular uses of term
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- 1947: In the song "Boogie Woogie Blue Plate" by Louis Jordan, one line is "86 on the cherry pies" as one of many examples of short-order restaurant lingo.
- 1957: The main character in Gore Vidal's play Visit to a Small Planet uses the command "86" numerous times to destroy things.
- In the television series Get Smart, agent Maxwell Smart was code-named Agent 86.
- 1973: Thomas Pynchon used the term "86" in Gravity's Rainbow: "They did finally 86 him out of Massachusetts Bay Colony."
- 1976: Jimmy Buffett's song “Cliches” from the Havana Daydreamin' album has a line “she’s 86’d from the Chart Room”, meaning she is not allowed back there.
- 1986: Little Shop of Horrors. Audrey 2. "There must be someone you can 86, real quiet like and get me some lunch"
- 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.
- 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.
- 1995: Green Day wrote a song titled "86" off of their Insomniac album. The song is in reference to the band being banned from the punk club 924 Gilman Street—as well as the backlash they received from the punk community at large—due to their decision to sign to a major label.
- 1998: Frasier — in the season opener "Good Grief" — tells a server to "eighty-six the spring rolls and bring me the freaking turkey."
- 2001: The Princess Diaries's main protagonist Mia Thermopolis asked her bodyguard/driver Joe, "Can we 86 the flags please?" (referring to the flags on the royal limousine) to which the latter refused.
- Alison Bechdel's 2006 autobiographic novel Fun Home includes an incident about her and a few friends getting 86ed from Chumley's Bar.
- Dan Fante's 2009 novel 86'd is about a man who gets fired and battles his alcoholism.
- In Charmed's episode Give Me a Sign, the phrase is uttered by Phoebe Halliwell when she recounts an event where a demon hires a gunman to take them out.
- In the Family Guy episode "Tales of a Third Grade Nothing," the phrase is uttered by Andy Dick as he bursts into the club.
- Cars's main antagonist Chick Hicks has this number which means he rammed other cars and got rid of them.
- 2018: Several T-shirts have become available with 86/45 printed on them, in reference to (the desire of) removing the 45th president Donald Trump from office.
- "Eighty-six - Definition of eighty-six by Merriam-Webster". merriam-webster.com.
- "What does '86'd' or '86 It' Mean in Restaurant Jargon?". Culinary Lore. March 8, 2015. Retrieved August 12, 2015.
- "linguistlist.org: Soda Jerk Slang & Coney Island Chicken (Winchell, 1933)". linguistlist.org.
- NAVSUP P-485 Volume II (PDF). Defense Logistics Agency. p. 369.
- Klein, Jef (2006). The History and Stories of the Best Bars of New York. Turner Publishing Company.
- "snopes.com: Etymology of 86". snopes.com.
- New York Times, "The Theatre: 'Visit to a Small Planet'; Vidal's Foolish Notion Is Staged at Booth The Cast," by Brooks Atkinson; February 8, 1957, page 18
- "86 by Green Day,". songfacts.com. 16 December 2017.
- "Dan Fante, Confronting His Demons On The Page". NPR.org. 29 September 2009.
|Look up eighty-six in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- "eighty-six"="nix" at Yaelf.com, the alt.usage.english FAQ at the Wayback Machine (archived 27 September 2011)
- Snopes.com: Etymology of the slang term "86"