86 (term)

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"86","86ed", "86'd", or eighty-sixed when used as a verb in American English, is a slang term for getting rid of something, ejecting someone, or refusing service.


There are several possible origins of the term 86. In 1928, all electrical components of the power system, then being installed across America, were given standardized numbers to show their functional use on all electrical power system circuit diagrams. In the design of electrical power systems, the ANSI Standard Device Numbers (ANSI/IEEE Standard C37.2) denote what features a protective device supports (such as a relay or circuit breaker). These types of devices protect electrical systems and components from damage when an unwanted event occurs, such as an electrical fault. Device numbers are used to identify the functions of devices shown on a schematic diagram of a substation. Function descriptions are given in the standard. ANSI/IEEE C37.2-2008 is one of a continuing series of revisions of the standard, which originated in 1928. An 86 device is a LOCKOUT breaker. Linemen and other power system technicians familiar with the term were working their way across America as the country was electrified. The term "being 86'd" could have originated from their tendency to be 86ed (thrown out or locked out) of bars or other establishments.[citation needed]

Another possible origin is from the U.S. Navy's Allowance Type (AT) coding system used for logistic purposes. The allowance type code is a single digit numeric that identifies the reason material is being carried in stock. Throughout the life-cycle of a warship, many pieces of equipment will be upgraded or replaced, requiring the allowance of onboard spare parts associated to the obsolete equipment to be disposed of. The AT code assigned to parts designated for disposition is AT-6. Following World War II, there were a great number of warships being decommissioned, sold, scrapped, or deactivated and placed in reserve (commonly referred to as "mothballed"). During this process, labor workers would bring spare parts up from the storerooms and the lead supply clerk would inform them what the disposition of their parts were by part number. Anything referred to as AT-6 (or by similar phonetic, eighty-six) was to be disposed of in the dumpster. This is where the term became synonymous with throwing something away.[1]

Author Jeff Klein points to the bar Chumley's at 86 Bedford Street in the West Village of Lower Manhattan, as a source. The 2006 book The History and Stories of the Best Bars of New York by Jef Klein tells the story that, when the police would very kindly call ahead before a prohibition-era raid, they'd tell the bartender to '86' his customers, meaning they should scram out the 86 Bedford door, while the police would come to the Pamela Court entrance.

The song "Boogie Woogie Blue Plate" by Louis Jordan hit number one in 1947 on the US R&B Billboard charts. He sings about a waitress, "You can hear her putting in orders like this, ... 86 on the cherry pies..", restaurant lingo for being out of an item.[2]

Whether it was the catalyst that propelled '86' into American popular culture or just helped reinforce it, Gore Vidal's play Visit to a Small Planet[3] was a well-received comedy whose main character uses the command number "86" numerous times to destroy things. It was first shown on the Goodyear Television Playhouse in 1955 as a television play. In February 1957, it was released on New York City's Broadway as a very popular, Tony Award winning play, with actor Eddie Mayehoff, which ran for 388 performances at the Booth Theatre[4] Thereafter, the play was released as a movie: Visit to a Small Planet, starring Jerry Lewis, was released in late 1960 and re-released in 1966 on a double billing. Lewis played the part of Kreton, an alien with special powers. To activate his powers, he used number commands, one of which was 86 and that destroyed things. He kills a plant by saying "eighty-six" and later threatens to kill someone with the same command number.[5]

The Merriam Webster dictionary suggests the term may be associated with the word "nix" ("no" or a more general prohibition).[6]

The term 86'd may also be associated with the Empire State Building. The first or lower elevators only went as far as the observation promenade on the 86th floor, where every one had to get out and, if they wanted to go to the upper floors, use another elevator for the last 16 floors up to the 102nd floor.

The term 86 may come from the movie business in Hollywood. When shooting on colour film, a camera needs an 85 filter (amber in colour) to balance the daylight. When moving indoors under tungsten light the filter is removed or replaced with a clear filter and this was referred to as the 86 filter.

Use of term[edit]

According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, "86" is a slang term that is used in the American popular culture as a transitive verb to mean throw out or get rid of, particularly in the food service industry as a term to describe an item no longer available on the menu, or to refuse service to a customer.[6]

Today, the term "86", and especially its past tense, "86ed" is widely used in American culture and beyond.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ NAVSUP P-485 Volume II. Defense Logistics Agency. pp. A9–5. 
  2. ^ Five Guys Named Moe: Original Decca Recordings, Vol. 2, Boogie Woogie Blue Plate Lyrics by Louis Jordan, 1947
  3. ^ New York Times, "The Theatre: 'Visit to a Small Planet'; Vidal's Foolish Notion Is Staged at Booth The Cast," by Brooks Atkinson; February 8, 1957, page 18
  4. ^ A Visit to a Small Planet playbill, Comedy – Original, Booth Theatre First Preview: Opening Date: February 7, 1957 – Closing Date: January 11, 1958, Performances: 388, Playwright: Gore Vidal
  5. ^ visit to a small planet jerry lewis (youtube.com)
  6. ^ a b "86" on Merriam-Webster.com
  7. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0662358/fullcredits#writers
  8. ^ "Memorable quotes for Leaving Las Vegas (1995)". IMDB. Retrieved 23 November 2012. 
  9. ^ NYtimes.com
  10. ^ NPR.org
  11. ^ Twitter.com
  12. ^ Kitchen Nightmares USA Season 6 Episode 16

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