Where Did the Term 86 Come From?

To 86 Something Meaning

Definition: To get rid of something; to cancel an order for a food item that is no longer available.

Origin of To 86 Something

The expression first appeared in the first half of the 1900s. The exact origin is unclear, but the most cited story relates to the restaurant industry in the early 20th century.

In the 1930s, many restaurants used 86 as shorthand code for “we’re out of this item.” In this sense, the phrase hasn’t changed much from its original use.

In 1933, newsman Walter Winchell published a column where he referenced the term in a “glossary of soda-fountain lingo.”

It is possible that 86 developed because it rhymed with the word nix, which means to cancel.

Another story relates to a bar in New York City name Chumley’s. The bar is located at 86 Bedford Street. According to legend, unruly patrons would be thrown out onto the street, where they would see the 86 over the bar door. This became known as “being 86’d.”

Another story related to American cowboys. In order to keep cowboys from getting to rowdy, the bartenders would slyly give them 86 proof liquor instead of the standard 100 proof.

Other stories attempt to link the phrase with the military. One such story relates to Article 86 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This section deals with soldiers who have gone AWOL. Another military origin story relates to a Navy coding system that designated items for disposal. The code AT-6 was assigned to those items for disposal. It’s easy to see how this might, eventually, get transformed into 86.

There are many more origin stories for 86, but the restaurant link continues to be the most widely believed source.

Examples of To 86 Something

86 meaning The dialogue below shows two university students studying in a cafe.

Nisha: Thanks for studying with me. I always feel like I learn best when I can collaborate with other people in the class.

Alan: No problem. Same here. I’m going to go get some hot chocolate to drink while we study. Can I get you something too?

Nisha: Sure. Can I get a chai latte?

Alan: Oh, I just overheard one of the waitresses say they are all out of chai tea at the moment.

Nisha: Oh, darn. Okay, 86 the chai. I’ll get a mocha latte.

Alan: Sounds good. I’ll be right back.

define 86 The second dialogue shows a father and son discussing the family restaurant.

Son: I’m going to make some anchovy pizza for customers to buy by the slice.

Dad: No, nobody likes anchovy pizza. Make some pepperoni pizza instead.

Son: But I already started.

Dad: I’m telling you to 86 the anchovy pizza. We’re going to get busy any minute and we have to focus on making our most popular dishes.

Son: Okay, fine, I’ll get rid of it, but I think it’s a huge waste of food.

More Examples

The excerpt is about a chef who will keep lemons on his menu, although some people thought he might remove them.

  • Contrary to some local press reports, he has no plans to eighty-six lemons (though he does use a local citrus called flying dragon lemon if it’s available), olive oil or other ingredients from farther afield. “When you’re trying to get people to understand a cuisine, things need to be delicious,” he said. –Wall Street Journal

This excerpt is about a basketball player who hates the new jerseys. He might be able to get the team to get rid of the new design.

  • He should approach it as a legitimate problem for the league, not just LeBron James, because if there’s any player in the NBA who has enough pull to eighty-six the league’s fashion marketing, it’s LeBron. –USA Today

Summary

The phrase to 86 something is a common expression in restaurants that means a food item is no longer in stock.

Outside of the food industry, many other people use it in a general way to mean remove something.