86 (term)

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When used as a verb, eighty-six, eighty-sixed, 86, 86ed, or 86'd is American English slang for getting rid of something, ejecting someone, or refusing service.


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 being available on the menu. The Merriam Webster dictionary suggests the term may be associated with the word "nix" ("no" or a more general prohibition).[1] "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,[2] 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."[3]


Several possible origins of the term 86 have been suggested, all dated before the 1950s.

Looking north at Chumley's, 86 Bedford St, West Village
  • 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.[4]
  • 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.'"[5]
  • 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[edit]

  • 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[6] uses the command "86" numerous times to destroy things.
  • 1966: In the television series Get Smart, agent Maxwell Smart was code-named Agent 86.
  • 1972: In the film The Candidate, Allan Garfield's character, a savvy political operative, tells the senatorial aspirant played by Robert Redford that "the first thing we do, we cut your hair and 86 the sideburns."
  • 1973: In the television series M*A*S*H, Colonel Sherman T. Potter often tells Corporal Klinger to "86" either his latest idea or his lady's clothing.
  • 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.
  • 1990: The Witches (1990 film). Children’s film starring Anjelica Huston, in which a potion called “Formula 86” is used in order to turn all children into mice.
  • 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.[7]
  • 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.[8]
  • 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 Mentalist episode "The White of his Eyes" aired in 2015, Patrick Jane (played by Simon Baker) used the phrase "86" to cancel the order for "chicken wings" at the bar.
  • In House of Cards (U.S. TV series)'s chapter 50, aired in 2016, Will Conways urges Ted Brockhart to talk to Dreyer and 86 the bill President Underwood wants to pass.
  • 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.
  • The Indonesian National Police radio code for "copy-that" is "86" spoken in Indonesian as Delapan Enam meaning; "understood".
  • Episode 5 Season 2 of The Deuce James Francos character vincent refuses to ban his brother in law Bobby from a bar he runs. Franco says Bobby Is family, And i dont 86 family

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Eighty-six - Definition of eighty-six by Merriam-Webster". merriam-webster.com.
  2. ^ "What does '86'd' or '86 It' Mean in Restaurant Jargon?". Culinary Lore. March 8, 2015. Retrieved August 12, 2015.
  3. ^ "linguistlist.org: Soda Jerk Slang & Coney Island Chicken (Winchell, 1933)". linguistlist.org.
  4. ^ Klein, Jef (2006). The History and Stories of the Best Bars of New York. Turner Publishing Company.
  5. ^ "snopes.com: Etymology of 86". snopes.com.
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ "86 by Green Day,". songfacts.com. 16 December 2017.
  8. ^ "Dan Fante, Confronting His Demons On The Page". NPR.org. 29 September 2009.

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