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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 in the premises. Its origins are unknown but seem to have been coined in the 1920s or 1930s.

The term is now more generally used to get rid of someone or something. In the 1970s its meaning expanded to refer to murder.

Etymology and meanings[edit]

Chumley's at 86 Bedford Street in the West Village

Eighty-six was initially used in restaurants and bars according to most late twentieth-century American slang dictionaries.[1] 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.[1] Beyond this context, it is generally used with the meaning to 'get rid of' someone or something.[1]

According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, 86 means to "refuse to serve (a customer)", to "get rid of" or "throw out" someone or something.[2]

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it may be used as a noun or verb.[3] 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."[3] As a transitive verb derived from the noun, it means "to eject or debar (a person) from premises; to reject or abandon".[3] The OED gives examples of usage from 1933 to 1981.[3] For example, from The Candidate, "in which the media adviser said to Robert Redford, ‘O.K., now, for starters, we got to cut your hair and eighty-six the sideburns'"[3]

According to Cassell's Dictionary of Slang, the meaning expanded in the U.S. during the 1970s to also mean “to kill, to murder; to execute judicially”.[4] This usage was derived from the slang term used in restaurants.[5] Other slang dictionaries confirm this definition.[6][7][5]

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

  • Rhyming slang for nix.[3][8]
  • 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]
  • Another explanation offers that 86th Street stop was the end of the line on the Chicago "L" train, and drunks and derelicts who were still on board would have to exit the train.[13]

Notable uses[edit]

In entertainment[edit]

  • The 1947 song "Boogie Woogie Blue Plate", by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five,[14] uses hipster lingo, among which is "86 on the cherry pie".
  • Agent 86 in the 1960s TV show, Get Smart, gets his code number from the term.[1][15]
  • David B. Feinberg's first novel, Eighty-sixed (1989), refers to "the gay community wiped out by AIDS".[16] It won Feinberg the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Men's Fiction and the American Library Association Gay/Lesbian Award for Fiction.[17]
  • The song "86" (1995) by Green Day is about them being rejected from their punk rock community when they started achieving commercial success.[18][19]
  • Dan Fante’s novel, 86'd (2009) is loosely based on his own struggles with alcoholism and substance abuse.[20]
  • Neon Indian’s comedy crime film, 86'd (2018), takes place at a 24-hour restaurant.[21]

In politics[edit]

  • In 2005, the grassroots campaign 8664 was started in Louisville, Kentucky to advocate for removing Interstate 64's segment through downtown.[22]
  • In 2018, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, then-White House Press Secretary under President Donald Trump, was asked to leave the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia. This was reported by Brennan Gilmore with a note saying "86 – Sara Huckabee Sanders".[10]
  • In 2020, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer had a small sign inscribed with "8645"—an allusion to the term and the 45th US President (Trump)—in the background during a Meet the Press interview.[23][24] Representatives of the 2020 Trump presidential campaign interpreted it as encouragement for the assassination of Trump.[23][24][25] A spokesperson for Whitmer stated in response, "The silly season is officially here. It's pretty clear nobody in the Trump campaign has ever worked a food service job."[24][26] Whitmer herself said about the Trump campaign's accusation, "That was ridiculous. Eighty-six means reject, and I do reject Donald Trump. I reject Donald Trump's rhetoric, I reject Donald Trump's bungled COVID response, and I reject Donald Trump's decisions to pit Americans against Americans."[27]

See also[edit]

  • Deep Six (disambiguation)
  • 23 skidoo
  • List of restaurant terminology


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Dundes, Alan (2001). "An Uplifting Origin of 86". American Speech. 76 (4): 437–440. doi:10.1215/00031283-76-4-437. Unknown parameter |s2cid= ignored (help)
  2. "Definition of 86 by Merriam-Webster". Merriam-Webster. October 2020.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 "eighty-six, n.", Oxford English Dictionary, 1989, retrieved 21 October 2020 (subscription required)
  4. 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. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  5. 5.0 5.1 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!”), [...] Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  6. Lighter, Jonathan E.; House (Firm), Random (1994). Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang: H-O. Random House. ISBN 978-0-679-43464-1. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  7. Dalzell, Tom; Victor, Terry (2015-06-26). The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-317-37251-6. Eighty-six to kill US, 1991 Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  8. Anupam Mukherji (2006), Food And Beverage Management, Gyan Publishing House, ISBN 9788182053342
  9. Walter Winchell (24 May 1933), "On Broadway", Akron Beacon Journal
  10. 10.0 10.1 Ben Zimmer (23 June 2018), "A Restaurant 'Eighty-Sixed' Sarah Huckabee Sanders. What Does That Mean?", The Atlantic
  11. Bentley, Harold W. (February 1936), "Linguistic Concoctions of the Soda Jerker", American Speech, Duke University Press, 11 (1): 37–45, doi:10.2307/452683, JSTOR 452683
  12. Klein, Jef (2006). The History and Stories of the Best Bars of New York. Turner Publishing Company. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  13. Mastrangelo, Joseph P. (17 May 1977). "Wherever It Came From, '86' Means Just One Thing at the Bar - You're Out". The Washington Post. Retrieved 19 October 2020.
  14. Knopper, Steve (1999). MusicHound Swing!: The Essential Album Guide. Visible Ink Press. ISBN 978-1-57859-091-9. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  15. Douglas Martin (27 September 2005), "Don Adams, Television's Maxwell Smart, Dies at 82", New York Times
  16. Texier, Catherien (1989-02-26). "When sex was all that mattered (published 1989)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-10-19.
  17. Feinberg, David B. (1995-11-01). Queer and Loathing: Rants and Raves of a Raging AIDS Clone. Penguin. ISBN 978-1-101-16171-5. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  18. "Green Day: The Inside Story Of Insomniac". Kerrang!. Retrieved 2020-10-19.
  19. Case, Wesley (May 3, 2013). "A brief guide to Green Day". The Baltimore Sun. Tribune Publishing. Archived from the original on 2016-03-05. Retrieved February 23, 2016. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  20. "Dan Fante, Confronting His Demons On The Page". NPR.org. Retrieved 2020-10-19.
  21. Arcland, Rob. "Neon Indian Releases Theme Song for His New Film 86'd". Spin Magazine (21 December 2018). Retrieved 19 October 2020.
  22. Allyn, Bobby (2013-02-18). "Like the Ohio River, a Bridge Project Divides a Community (Published 2013)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-10-20.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Van Dyke, Tyler (18 October 2020). "'Shorthand for killing someone': Trump campaign disturbed by Gretchen Whitmer displaying '8645' in background for interview". Washington Examiner.
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 LeBlanc, Beth. "Whitmer, Trump campaign clash after '8645' seen next to Michigan governor". The Detroit News. Retrieved 2020-10-20.
  25. "Trump Campaign Is 'Inspiring and Incentivizing' Attacks on Gretchen Whitmer". www.vice.com. Retrieved 2020-10-20.
  26. Karanth, Sanjana (18 October 2020). "Trump Campaign Doubles Down On Attacks On Gov. Whitmer After Pushback". Huffington Post.
  27. Sheth, Sonam. "Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is 'hanging in there' as Trump encourages supporters to 'lock her up' after the FBI thwarted a right-wing plot to kidnap and execute her". Business Insider.

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