snopes.com  

Go Back   snopes.com > Urban Legends > Language

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 26 August 2011, 10:05 AM
TB Tabby TB Tabby is offline
 
Join Date: 13 January 2004
Location: Bolingbrook, IL
Posts: 1,713
Chef 86ed

I recently purchased Uncle John's Triumphant 20th Anniversary Bathroom Reader, and it has an article on the diner lingo term "86," used to omit something. ("One burger, 86 the onions!") The article lists no less than twelve possible origins for the term:

(And yes, I know it goes from 9 to 11. I guess Theory #10 was 86ed.)

Quote:
THEORY #1: Delmonico's, a legendary New York City steakhouse (the original restaurant closed in 1926), served dozens of different cuts of steak, and they were all numbered on the menu. Item #86 was the rib-eye, the most popular entree--so popular that Delmonico's frequently ran out of it. The number "86" became staff shorthand for running out of something.

THEORY #2: Another famed 1920s New York establishment, the 21 Club, supposedly had only 85 tables. When the club was full, the host would assign one unlucky customer table #86...and then throw him out.

THEORY #3: Article 86 of an old version of the New York State Liquor Code--adhered to by bars and restaurants--stated that if someone was visibly intoxicated, bartenders were forbidden to serve them any more booze.

THEORY #4: Many soup kitchens in the 1920s and 1930s used huge cauldrons that held exactly 85 bowls of soup. If you were 86th in line, you didn't get any soup.

THEORY #5: British Merchant Marine ships could supposedly carry only 85 sailors. The 86th sailor to report for duty got left ashore.

THEORY #6: Many coffins are eight feet long and buried six feet underground. According to grave-digger slang, when you're buried, you're "86ed."

THEORY #7: One of the observation decks in New York City's Empire State Building is on the 86th Floor. The ledges are now fenced off because it used to be a popular suicide jump spot.

THEORY #8: Soda fountain workers in the 1930s used a jargon made up of seemingly random number codes. A "99" was the head soda jerk, a "33" was a cherry Coke, a "55" was a root beer, and an "87 1/2" was a cute female customer. An "86" was anything out of stock.

THEORY #9: It's bartender slang. If a bartender ran out of the quality 100-proof whiskey, they'd substitute in the similar (but cheaper) 86 proof.

THEORY #11: By 1886, the Gold Rush in the western United States was over, taken over by mining companies. A single miner looking for a claim was out of luck, or "86ed."

THEORY #12: In the criminal underground of the Cockney parts of London in the 19th century, rhyming slang was used as code. For example, "trouble and strife" meant "wife," "plates of meat" meant "feet," and "bees and honey" meant "money." "86ed" was rhyming slang for "nixed."

THEORY #13: Chumley's was a New York speakeasy during Prohibition. The secret alternate entrance was located at 86 Bedford Street. The bar bribed cops to let them know when a raid was coming so their patrons could escape without being arrested. The cops would phone the bar and the bartender would yell "86 everybody!" as a cue to leave via 86 Bedford.
Also, while I was researching, I found another theory on WIkipedia: it comes from Gore Vidal's play Visit to a Small Planet, in which the main character used the command number 86 to destroy things.
Reply With Quote
  #2  
Old 26 August 2011, 10:43 AM
Squirt's Avatar
Squirt Squirt is offline
 
Join Date: 16 February 2007
Location: London, UK
Posts: 1,115
Default

The merchant ship sailor thing sounds wrong - I'm pretty certain there was never a "standard" for merchant ships in that way, so each ship would have it's own crewing standard. Also, are coffins really 8 foot long? That sounds much longer than needed for even the tallest person.
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 26 August 2011, 11:34 AM
stalker stalker is offline
 
Join Date: 10 July 2006
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Posts: 2,014
Default

No chance on the Cockney thing either. It doesn't fit at all.

The most realistic one, to me, sounds like the one on Wikipedia.
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 26 August 2011, 12:16 PM
Don Enrico's Avatar
Don Enrico Don Enrico is offline
 
Join Date: 05 October 2004
Location: Hamburg, Germany
Posts: 6,424
Default

It would help to know when the first documented use of that phrase appeared. If they are in the 1950's or 60's, it excludes all explanations from the 1880's or 1920's because phrases aren't used that long without being documented. If the first use is indeed in Visit to a Small Planet, that would be the origin.

ETA: Merriam-Webster has the "first known use" in 1959. Visit to a Small Planet debuted on TV in 1955.

EagainTA: IANALinguist

Last edited by Don Enrico; 26 August 2011 at 12:23 PM.
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 26 August 2011, 12:36 PM
Barbara's Avatar
Barbara Barbara is offline
 
Join Date: 19 February 2000
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Posts: 7,360
Whalephant

According to the OED, the first use of '86' in the sense of refusing service to someone appeared in a 1944 book about John Barrymore.

Etymology of 86.
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 27 August 2011, 05:20 PM
crocoduck_hunter's Avatar
crocoduck_hunter crocoduck_hunter is offline
 
Join Date: 27 May 2009
Location: Roseburg, OR
Posts: 7,061
Default

I'd always assumed it was something like "the mob liked to dump bodies of people they killed near Interstate 86."
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 30 August 2011, 11:00 AM
Cyrano's Avatar
Cyrano Cyrano is offline
 
Join Date: 01 September 2005
Location: Switzerland
Posts: 2,859
Default

Better 86ed than 45ed.
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 30 August 2011, 12:53 PM
diddy's Avatar
diddy diddy is offline
 
Join Date: 07 March 2004
Location: Plymouth, MN
Posts: 10,641
Default

I always heard of it as a coy rhyme of the word "nix" so that restaurants could discreetly remove someone without creating a disturbance on behalf of a possible belligerent drunk.

ETA: What Barbara said in the snopes link.

Last edited by diddy; 30 August 2011 at 01:10 PM.
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 30 August 2011, 01:25 PM
Brad from Georgia's Avatar
Brad from Georgia Brad from Georgia is offline
 
Join Date: 21 June 2000
Location: Oakwood, GA
Posts: 12,654
Default

And of course to deep-six an idea or project means to cancel it, to consign it to the questionable mercies of Poseidon, to sink it without a trace, to make it walk the plank, take the oak stroll, send it to Davy Jones's locker, let it sleep with the fishes, and so on.....

Maybe to eighty-six something is to get rid of it with a bit less finality?
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 30 August 2011, 02:39 PM
UEL's Avatar
UEL UEL is offline
 
Join Date: 01 August 2004
Location: Gloucester, ON
Posts: 6,932
Baseball

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brad from Georgia View Post
Maybe to eighty-six something is to get rid of it with a bit less finality?
Unless Maxwell Smart gets hold of it.
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 30 August 2011, 02:49 PM
diddy's Avatar
diddy diddy is offline
 
Join Date: 07 March 2004
Location: Plymouth, MN
Posts: 10,641
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brad from Georgia View Post
Maybe to eighty-six something is to get rid of it with a bit less finality?
If you are willing to bury something 86 feet down, I would call that pretty final.
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 01 September 2011, 11:22 AM
Brad from Georgia's Avatar
Brad from Georgia Brad from Georgia is offline
 
Join Date: 21 June 2000
Location: Oakwood, GA
Posts: 12,654
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by diddy View Post
If you are willing to bury something 86 feet down, I would call that pretty final.
Arrhh, 'tis not even twenty fathom!
Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is On

Forum Jump


All times are GMT. The time now is 09:30 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.