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86 (term)

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Eighty-six or 86 is American English slang used to indicate that an item is no longer available, traditionally from a food or drinks establishment, or referring to a person or people who are not welcome on the premises. Its etymology is unknown, but seems to have been coined in the 1920s or 1930s.

The term has been more generally used to mean getting rid of someone or something. In the 1970s, its meaning expanded to refer to murder.[1]

Etymology and meanings[edit]

The term eighty-six was initially used in restaurants and bars according to most late twentieth-century American slang dictionaries.[2] It is often used in food and drink services to indicate that an item is no longer available or that a customer should be ejected.[2] Beyond this context, it is generally used with the meaning to 'get rid of' someone or something.[2]

According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, it means to "refuse to serve (a customer)", to "get rid of" or "throw out" someone or something.[3]

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it may be used as a noun or verb.[4] As a noun, "In restaurants and bars, an expression indicating that the supply of an item is exhausted, or that a customer is not to be served; also, a customer to be refused service. Also transferred."[4] As a transitive verb derived from the noun, it means "to eject or debar (a person) from premises; to reject or abandon".[4] The OED gives examples of usage from 1933 to 1981.[4] For example, from The Candidate, in which the media adviser said to Robert Redford, "OK, now, for starters, we got to cut your hair and eighty-six the sideburns".[4]

According to Cassell's Dictionary of Slang, the meaning expanded during the 1970s to also mean "to kill, to murder; to execute judicially".[1][5] This usage was derived from the slang term used in restaurants.[6] Other slang dictionaries confirm this definition.[7][8][6]

The address of Chumley's—86 Bedford Street, West Village—is one of several origin stories of the term

There are many theories about the origin of the term but none are certain. It seems to have originated in the 1920s or 1930s.[citation needed] Possible origins include:

  • Rhyming slang for nix.[4]
  • Part of the jargon used by soda jerks. Walter Winchell wrote about this in 1933, in his syndicated On Broadway column.[9] In this, the code 13 meant that a boss was around, 81 was a glass of water and 86 meant "all out of it".[10] Professor Harold Bentley of Columbia University studied soda jerk jargon and reported other numeric codes such as 95 for a customer leaving without paying.[11]
  • Author Jef Klein theorized that the bar Chumley's at 86 Bedford Street in the West Village of Lower Manhattan was the source. His 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.[12]

In popular culture[edit]


  • The 1947 song "Boogie Woogie Blue Plate", by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five,[13] uses soda-jerk lingo, among which is "86 on the cherry pie".
  • The 1995 song "86" by Green Day is about them being rejected from their punk rock community when they started achieving commercial success.[14][15]
  • The cover art for Eagles' 1980 live album Eagles Live features a stenciled version of the number on both sides. At the time, Eagles were on the verge of breaking up.

Stage and screen[edit]

  • Agent 86 in the 1960s TV show Get Smart gets his code number from the term.[2][16]
  • Numbuh 86 from the 2000s Cartoon Network show Codename: Kids Next Door gets her "numbuh" from this term due to her job of "decommissioning" Kids Next Door operatives who have reached the age of 13 and become teenagers.
  • The 2018 comedy crime film 86'd by Alan Palomo depicts five stories taking place at a 24-hour deli with a theme song composed under his Neon Indian moniker.[17]
  • Chumley's, one of the supposed origins of the term, was mentioned in the television series Elementary" (Season 3, Episode 14, "The Female of Species"). When Sherlock determines that a suspect evades police surveillance by using an old tunnel that was underneath the floor of the suspect's apartment, on the other side of that tunnel was the 86 Bedford St. door to Chumley's.


Electrical generation[edit]

  • The ANSI device numbers standard uses 86 for lock-out and master trip relays. Consistent with this standard, the wiring diagrams for Petersburg Generating Station sets all lock-out relays to be named "86" in its documentation, and operators describe a trip or lock-out event (for example, pump motor shutdown due to low voltage) as "86'd".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Green, Jonathon (2005). Cassell's Dictionary of Slang. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. p. 174. ISBN 978-0-304-36636-1. 2 [1970s+] (US) to kill, to murder; to execute judicially.
  2. ^ a b c d Dundes, Alan (2001). "An Uplifting Origin of 86". American Speech. 76 (4): 437–440. doi:10.1215/00031283-76-4-437. S2CID 143761197.
  3. ^ "Definition of 86 by Merriam-Webster". Merriam-Webster. October 2020. Archived from the original on October 22, 2020. Retrieved October 21, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "eighty-six, n.", Oxford English Dictionary, 1989, retrieved October 21, 2020 (subscription required)
  5. ^ "What Does the Term '86' Mean and Where Did It Come From?". Snopes. March 10, 2009. Retrieved October 30, 2020.
  6. ^ a b Hendrickson, Robert (2008). The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins. Facts on File. ISBN 978-0-8160-6966-8. Eighty-six. To murder someone or put an end to something, [...] The expression derives from the restaurant waiter slang term eighty-six, which, among other things, means to "deny an unwelcome customer service" or to "cancel an order" ("Eighty-six the eggs!"), [...]
  7. ^ Lighter, Jonathan E.; House (Firm), Random (1994). Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang: H-O. Random House. ISBN 978-0-679-43464-1. Archived from the original on October 30, 2020. Retrieved October 20, 2020.
  8. ^ Dalzell, Tom; Victor, Terry (June 26, 2015). The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-317-37251-6. Eighty-six to kill US, 1991
  9. ^ Walter Winchell (May 24, 1933), "On Broadway", Akron Beacon Journal
  10. ^ Ben Zimmer (June 23, 2018), "A Restaurant 'Eighty-Sixed' Sarah Huckabee Sanders. What Does That Mean?", The Atlantic, archived from the original on October 20, 2020, retrieved October 19, 2020
  11. ^ Bentley, Harold W. (February 1936), "Linguistic Concoctions of the Soda Jerker", American Speech, 11 (1), Duke University Press: 37–45, doi:10.2307/452683, JSTOR 452683, archived from the original on October 22, 2020, retrieved October 19, 2020
  12. ^ Klein, Jef (2006). The History and Stories of the Best Bars of New York. Turner Publishing Company.
  13. ^ Knopper, Steve (1999). MusicHound Swing!: The Essential Album Guide. Visible Ink Press. ISBN 978-1-57859-091-9.
  14. ^ "Green Day: The Inside Story of Insomniac". Kerrang!. Archived from the original on October 20, 2020. Retrieved October 19, 2020.
  15. ^ Case, Wesley (May 3, 2013). "A brief guide to Green Day". The Baltimore Sun. Tribune Publishing. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  16. ^ Douglas Martin (September 27, 2005), "Don Adams, Television's Maxwell Smart, Dies at 82", The New York Times, archived from the original on September 12, 2020, retrieved October 19, 2020
  17. ^ Arcland, Rob. "Neon Indian Releases Theme Song for His New Film 86'd". Spin. No. December 21, 2018. Archived from the original on October 19, 2020. Retrieved October 19, 2020.
  18. ^ Texier, Catherien (February 26, 1989). "When sex was all that mattered (published 1989)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on October 20, 2020. Retrieved October 19, 2020.
  19. ^ Feinberg, David B. (November 1, 1995). Queer and Loathing: Rants and Raves of a Raging AIDS Clone. Penguin. ISBN 978-1-101-16171-5.
  20. ^ "Dan Fante, Confronting His Demons on the Page". NPR. Archived from the original on August 4, 2020. Retrieved October 19, 2020.

External links[edit]