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I'm in Minneapolis for the LSA 2014 annual meeting, about which more later. For this morning, all I have time for is a note about the curious cover of the Mpls St Paul magazine that the hotel put out for me:

As far as I can tell from the contents of the article, the editors chose the number 86 just because they ran out of ideas or space at that point, and not as a covert reference to the slang noun and and verb, which the OED glosses as

eighty-six, n.: 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.

v. trans., to eject or debar (a person) from premises; to reject or abandon.

The suggested etymology is "perhaps rhyming slang for nix n".

Wiktionary gives only the verb, with the glosses

v. To cancel an order for food.
v. To remove an item from the menu.
v. To throw out; discard.
v. To deny service.

The only form I was familiar with was the verb, in the meaning "deny service" or "eject from premises", as here. By coincidence, I noticed the same new-to-me usage, just the other day, in a clip from Key and Peele played on Fresh Air ("For Key And Peele, Biracial Roots Bestow Special Comedic 'Power'", 12/31/2013), in which Jordan Peele plays President Obama, and  Keegan-Michael Key plays his "anger translator", Luther:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Peele: Now, before I begin,
I just want to say that I know a lot of people out there seem to think that I don't get angry.
That's just not true. I get angry a lot.
It's just that the way I express passion is different from most.
So just so there's no more confusion, we've hired Luther here to be my anger translator. Luther?
Key: Hi.
Peele: First off, concerning the recent developments in the Middle Eastern region,
I just want to reiterate our unflinching support for all people and their right to a democratic process.
Key: Hey, all y'all dictators out there, keep messing around and see what happens, just see what happens, watch.
Peele: Also, to the governments of Iran and North Korea, we once again urge you to discontinue your uranium enrichment programs.
Key: Hey, Mahmoud, Kim Jong, I think I done told both y'all, 86 your shit, bitches, or I'm going to come over there and do it for y'all. Please test me and see what happens.

Apparently this use of 86 means "throw out" or "discard" — which is clearly a traditional sense, as in the OED's citation

1980   New Yorker 30 June 67   Most of the program was devoted to the lessons in campaign management that could be learned from Presidential races, real and fictional (A scene was shown from the movie ‘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’).

But it was new to me. And apparently the editorial staff of Mpls St Paul are even further behind (or ahead?) of the curve. Or (more likely) never even considered that "86" might mean anything other than "the number of local attractions for kids we managed to come up with before we ran out of time and space".

Update — In the comments, Barbara Phillips Long links to a couple of articles that discuss the use of apparently-random numbers in headlines, e.g. Katherine O. Seelye, "Lurid Numbers on Glossy Pages! (Magazines Exploit What Sells)", NYT 2/10/2006:

A trip to the newsstand these days can be a dizzying descent into a blizzard of numbers. The March issue of Elle Girl promises readers "375 excuses to shop." Harper's Bazaar offers "783 new ideas to flatter you." Marie Claire trumpets not only "71 easy hair and makeup how-tos" but a mind-blowing "1,157 hot looks (all shapes, all sizes, all prices)."

Magazines, particularly the "service" publications aimed at women, have long used numbers as a selling point while helping readers divine what's in, what's hot, what's cool, what's not. But today, these totals, scores and inventories seem both increasingly random and increasingly increasing, leaping exponentially beyond the sorry single digits of yesteryear to an incalculable proliferation of paths to a better you.

 Update #2 — Courtesy of Chris Weigel, here's an unbleeped video clip:


  1. J. L. Barnes said,

    January 4, 2014 @ 12:27 pm

    Actually, you have the roles reversed – Peele is Obama, Key is Luther.

    [(myl) Sorry — fixed now.]

  2. Ted Powell said,

    January 4, 2014 @ 12:57 pm

    For me (ex-RCN) the term has less emphasis, less feeling of finality, than "deep six".

  3. Stan Carey said,

    January 4, 2014 @ 1:10 pm

    When I mentioned it in a blog post about words with no letters, commenter lsurrett2 said:

    I remember from my days in the restaurant biz–when we were out, that item was 86′ed. Conversely, I referred to it being 68′ed when the item was back on the menu.

  4. djw said,

    January 4, 2014 @ 1:24 pm

    Never in the restaurant business, but in six decades in Texas, I've only thought it meant "get rid of." I've heard and used it that way for years, but I can't recall when or where I picked it up; I suspect it was from my ex-Marine ex-spouse, and I think it was in the '70s, but I can't be sure.

  5. hector said,

    January 4, 2014 @ 1:46 pm

    I'm with djw. I'd forgotten all about this term, hadn't heard it in years. I remember it being current in Vancouver in the 70s, with, roughly, the meaning of "get rid of."

  6. IronMike said,

    January 4, 2014 @ 2:03 pm

    Growing up in TX in the 70's and 80's, we used the term at restaurants for items that were out of stock, same at retail clothing stores. We never used it for a customer, for whom we used the simple-to-understand "banned."

  7. Barry Ross said,

    January 4, 2014 @ 2:20 pm

    My encounters with the term were pretty much exclusively about patrons "being 86ed" from a bar, as in, "Let's go somewhere else, I was 86ed from that place."

  8. tsarchitect said,

    January 4, 2014 @ 2:50 pm

    I've seen "86" to mean "finish" or "get rid of," usually a foodstuff, but also spray paint.

    One place where I worked used shortwave radio for most of its communication. Their ten-code for "fatality" was 10-86, although I never asked anyone whether that was intentional.

  9. Lance said,

    January 4, 2014 @ 2:55 pm

    An old Sesame Street sketch has Grover saying "86 the birds!", which I always took to mean "cancel, get rid of", though I suppose there's an "eject from the premises" reading. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qfuWJzo82k (around 2:00, if you're so cold-hearted that you'd skip through a Sesame Street video).

    He may have used it in his stint as a waiter, too, though I didn't have a chance to hunt down a clip with that.

  10. Brett said,

    January 4, 2014 @ 3:23 pm

    I quite clearly remembered learning "eighty-six" as code for being out of something on the menu from an episode of 3-2-1 Contact. (In explaining the various codes, the waitress in the episode also mentioned "ninety-five" as code for somebody trying to dash without paying, but I've never encountered that again.) I always assumed this was the primordial meaning, and that the use of large two-digit numbers was related to the use of numbers to specify menu items. The servers and cooks might be calling numbers frequently, so numerical codes could make sense; however, the special code numbers had to high enough not to conflict with the numbers of actual dishes.

    I subsequently encountered, infrequently, the verb "eighty-six" meaning to get rid of something, but I had never associated it with ejecting a person from a restaurant or bar. I always associated it with inanimate objects, I suppose by analogy with food. On the other hand, I think I have only encountered the meaning of being out of a particular menu item once in my life. It was in a rather nice steak house, and when I tried to order the "wapiti mixed grill," with filets of both beef and elk, the waitress said, "We're eighty-six on that." I was completely bewildered—not recognizing the diner slang at all in that context. Somebody else at the table translated for me, and I felt a little sheepish about not getting it.

  11. Brett said,

    January 4, 2014 @ 3:32 pm

    Sorry for the double post. The comment from tsarchitect appeared while I was composing the above. I was trying to remember the sequence of usages that I remembered, starting from the one of being out of a dish, but I couldn't remember one of the steps (which tsarchitect reminded me of).

    The way I envisioned the usage developing was:

    1. out of a menu item
    2. transitive verb meaning "use up the last of a food or ingredient"
    3. verb meaning "get rid of," more generally
    4. verb meaning "expel from establishment"

    The last meaning was new to me.

  12. Chris Waigl said,

    January 4, 2014 @ 3:44 pm

    It's "86 your shit, bitches". Here's an unbleeped version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qv7k2_lc0M&list=PLD7nPL1U-R5q1FaNZlXWbRJdummbcksUd&index=9

    [(myl) Thanks — I've replaced the sound clip with the unbleeped version, and adjusted the discussion appropriately.]

  13. John said,

    January 4, 2014 @ 5:04 pm

    From my bartending days in the '60s, "86" was the term of choice for tossing someone out of the bar, cutting them off from future drinks on the night, or banning them in perpetuity from the establishment.

    It definitely conveyed the sense of "You're done," with only the duration of the doneness in question.

  14. Adrian said,

    January 4, 2014 @ 6:28 pm

    My only encounter with the word is this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pquBVIN_6Jk

  15. Randy McDonald said,

    January 4, 2014 @ 7:54 pm

    I'm reminded of David Feinberg's novel _Eighty-Sixed._

    [(myl) Indeed. Linked in the original post…]

  16. Jeff said,

    January 4, 2014 @ 9:12 pm

    It seems to still be in widespread use, at least in some parts of the US. I saw a bumper sticker in Louisville, Kentucky that had "86 64" (with the "64" part displayed graphically as an Interstate highway shield). A bit of Google led me to discover that it was a local organization that was opposing a major widening project for Interstate 64, thus "86 84". Here it is:

  17. Dan Lufkin said,

    January 4, 2014 @ 9:57 pm

    BTW, has anyone any theories about why magazines feel forced to have a prominent number on the cover of every issue? Imagine having to come up with a major list of things every month.

  18. Michael Vnuk said,

    January 4, 2014 @ 10:23 pm

    Maxwell Smart was Agent 86 in TV's 'Get Smart'. The number was chosen from the restaurant slang, eg see http://www.wouldyoubelieve.com/faq.html.

  19. Lane said,

    January 6, 2014 @ 8:07 am

    And doesn't context dictate that "your shit, bitches" is Luther's translation for "nuclear weapons programs"? Or can it maybe just be "bad behavior"?

    I hope the president knows, even if Luther doesn't, that "Kim Jong" is not the first name of a former Korean president whose last name is "Il".

  20. Lane said,

    January 6, 2014 @ 8:08 am

    (Not "president", sorry; this was apparently not one KJI's 20 or so titles. Now who looks silly?)

  21. Andrew Bay said,

    January 6, 2014 @ 10:12 am

    I really thought the term was a little more fatal…

  22. Mr Punch said,

    January 6, 2014 @ 5:19 pm

    "Eighty-six" in the [original?] sense of being out of something used to appear in glossaries of diner lingo, back when there were diners, along with terms like "Adam and Eve on a raft."

  23. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    January 7, 2014 @ 12:53 am

    @ Dan Lufkin — Magazine covers with numbers that promote lists sell better than covers without numbers, as in "Language Log: 9,463 posts you can't resist reading."

    Here are a couple of articles on the appeal of numbers in headlines and on covers, from Jim Romenesko and the New York Times:



  24. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    January 7, 2014 @ 1:08 am

    The Wikipedia page about 86 has a bunch of citations, including articles in the NYTimes and the number's use in song lyrics and television scripts:


    There's also a discussion of how 86 might have emerged from slang developed by linemen working on electrical lines, plus some discussion of U.S. Naval slang. I can see "deep six" coming from a naval usage because a fathom is six feet, but the discussion of 86 focuses on mothballing ships after World War II, and that seems later than the earliest use of the term. I've seen at least one source claim "deep six" comes from the depth of a grave — the "six feet under" — rather than naval usage.

  25. Bob Coard said,

    January 7, 2014 @ 12:54 pm

    I've been aware of this expression since the early 60s. The usage was solely pertaining to the ejection of drunks. "86 that bum" Reason given was that whiskey of the time was 85.8 proof. So the drunk had "had his 86"

  26. Austin said,

    January 9, 2014 @ 1:50 am

    Thomas Pynchon's Vineland contains the delightful phrase "summary octogenarihexation from the premises".

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