MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Where Did The Term “86” Come From?

Pretty much everyone has heard of the expression “86”, which means to do away with something (like, “Yeah, 86 that order!”). But where did it come from & why? Well, there are a few schools of thought as to its origin, though none of them are actually official. Some possibilities…

The restaurant business in the 1930s was one of the main incubators for the use & development of the term “86”. Believed to be slang for the word “nix”, 86 was initially used as a way of indicating that the kitchen was out of something. It later morphed into a code restaurants & bars would utilize to cut somebody off because they were either rude, broke, or drunk, as in “86 that order” or “86 that fella at table four”.

Then, there are some who believe the term possibly arose out of the Prohibition era & the New York City bar Chumley’s. To survive, speakeasies like Chumley’s had the police on a sort of payroll, so that they’d get warned of impending raids. Cops on the take would purportedly call Chumley’s & tell the bartender to “86” his customers, which meant that a raid was imminent & that everyone should leave quickly by way of the door leading out onto 86 Bedford Street, before the police would ultimately arrive through the entrance on Pamela Court.

Then, there’s the whiskey theory. Up until the 80s, whiskey came in 100 or 86 proof. So, when a bartender realized that a drinker had consumed too much of the 100 proof, they would scale them back to the 86 proof. So, in bar lingo, that person would have been “86’d.”

Or the phrase could’ve been born out of death. The final time you can be “86’d” would be when you’re put under the ground, since standard graves have been said to be 8 feet long & 6 feet deep. And while that last metric isn’t always true, no one’s ever come forward with the precise origin story that would 86 this one.

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