Wikipedia and some other lists include quite a list of possible answers. Except that a number of them are NOT possible. In fact, most of these articles fail to make ANY reasonable attempt to weed out even the most impossible answers, which makes them very unhelpful
First, note that the expression was well-established in restaurants by the early or mid 1920s --along with other short # codes used by waiters and waitresses-- as shorthand for something that could not be served because it had run out. Apparently it was later extended to mean "refuse to serve" and even to kick out/bounce someone.
Note the date. The simple chronology rules OUT explanations such as the following:
a) explanations based on things that did not even EXIST at the first known use of the expression (by the mid 1920s) -- Chumbley's went up in 1927, the Empire State Building in 1931, the New York Liquor Authority in 1934 (Other supposed sources are as late as the 1950s!)
Limit on # of beds or portions, related to Great Depression era soup lines, etc. won't work either, since the Depression began in 1929.
b) explanations thats depend on the LIQUOR connection ('stop serving') which is a LATER derived use (no earlier than the 1930s)...
And too many depend on claims that no one offers ANY source for (such as a purported law never actually cited or a general reference to "A restaurant" or "a morgue"...)
c) connecting it with the Uniform Code of Military Justice section regarding AWOL soldiers.
Now it is true that UCMJ Sub Chapter X Article 86 treats this subject.
Only problem -- this passed Congress May 5, 1950, signed into law by President Harry S. Truman, and became effective on 31 May 1951.
-- various suggestions based on only 85 of something ever being prepared or available offer no evidence for this number (an unusual one at that)
-- I don't think the British Merchant Marine ship crews of the early 20th century were anything like that large)
That probably leaves us with things like
- rhyming for "nix" (meaning "nothing", that is, we're out)... "nix" was borrowed from German "nichts",and was around before 1920.
- the famou Delmonico restaurant's menu item #86 --rib eye steak-- was so popular that they often ran out.. so that "86" came to be used for "we're out of that"
- a Morse code abbreviation ? (the system began in 1859, but I have not found any list including "86" yet)
At this point, I'd have to save the rhyme with "nix" seems more likely than others... but more from the WEAKNESS of the other explanations!
Extra piece of trivia -- this expression was the origin of the decision to make Maxwell Smart "Agent 86"
It means to get rid of something or someone.eg:"86 your gum" I forget where the saying originally came from.
Here are some differnt explanations of 86 from Wikipedia.
"generally used in restaurant or food service environments when a specific item is no longer available. For example, "86 baked haddock", or "the mussels have been 86'ed", or in a bar when you may have drunk too much and can never come back.
used as a verb, to "eighty-six" means to "ignore" or "get rid of". The first recorded usage of this term occurs in the mid-1930s. Suggested theories of the origin of this usage include (in no particular order):
Possibly a reference to article 86 of the New York state liquor code which defines the circumstances in which a bar patron should be refused service or "86ed".
Another theory has it that this is rhyming slang for "nix." However, if so, it would be a wholly American origin, and thus would be unusual for rhyming slang.
Others have suggested that this usage originated from the famous Delmonico's Restaurant in New York City, as item number 86 on their menu, their house steak, often ran out during the 19th century. However, there is no recorded usage of this term in the nineteenth century.
Another explanation is that Chumley's, which was a famous 1900s New York speakeasy, is located at 86 Bedford St. During Prohibition, an entrance through an interior adjoining courtyard was used, as it provided privacy and discretion for customers. As was a New York tradition, the cops were on the payroll of the bar and would give a ring to the bar that they were coming for a raid. The bartender would then give the command "86 everybody!", which meant that everyone should hightail it out the 86 Bedford entrance because the cops were coming in through the courtyard door.
The term came into popular use among soldiers and veterans to describe missing soldiers as 86'd. Rather than describe buddies missing in action, it was slang to describe the MIA as being AWOL, therefore violating UCMJ Sub Chapter X Article 86.
Another explanation is the possibility of a simple variation of the slang term deep six, which has identical meaning, and is simply meant to describe the approximate depth of a grave.
One possible origin is the public outdoor observatory on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building, the site of more than 30 suicides.
Another origin related to the Empire State Building is the fact that all the elevators stop at the 86th floor. Hence, everyone had to leave. The building opened in 1931, apparently a few years before the term became popular.
On the PBS Show Cooking Under Fire, when a Contestant is eliminated, the judge tells them they're "86'd." "
In the restaurant biz the term 86' (we are out of it )is quite common.
"86, rhymes with and means 'nix,' usually called out from cook to waiter or waitress, meaning 'we're all out of it, we don't have any.'
Also used to mean 'no sale' and as a code meaning a person is not to be served, because he is broke, drunk, etc."
To 86 someone is commonly used to refer to being thrown out of, or excluded from, a bar for acting up while drunk. It's origins are in old navy storthand for burial at sea. This part I'm not sure of but I think 86 referred to the minimum depth of water that is allowed for a burial at sea.
Hope that helps,
To get thrown out. Not sure where it came from.
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