What does it mean when someone or something is referred to as being "86'd"?

  • For a fuller rundown of the term and its etymology, check out snopes.com's explanation. [Warning: the site uses annoying pop-behind windows, but the material is, in my estimation, worth the minor aggravation.]
    – Robusto
    Commented Feb 27, 2011 at 13:49
  • In some parts of the world, it could mean that the Hachi Roku is on their tail. Commented Jan 26, 2013 at 5:34
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    I've been a professional chef for 16 years, and the context in which we use the term is always the same: telling a coworker, especially a waiter, to stop taking orders for a particular item because we ran out of it. It isn't really "removing something from the menu" in a permanent sense, just making it unavailable until we get more. Every cook I know uses it without having a firm grasp of why it is used or where it came from, although some of them have heard theories.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented May 26, 2018 at 15:35

7 Answers 7


Without further context, I would take it to mean that that someone or something was rejected, thrown out or discarded. It's a slang expression, encountered primarily in restaurant context. When you eighty-six someone, you refuse to serve them.

Edit: Wiktionary lists a few more meanings, along with this bit about etymology:

Origin uncertain. The [Oxford English Dictionary] suggests possible rhyming slang for nix. Other more elaborate theories include Delmonaco Restaurant in New York City, as item #86 on their menu, their house steak, is supposed to have run out often in the 19th century; another theory is that this term came from the New York speakeasy Chumley’s, which was a hotspot in the 20s. Chumley’s is hidden inside a west village building which has two entrances, a well set back main entrance on Barrow Street and an obscure back-door exit on 86 Bedford Street. When police were sighted approaching the main entrance, the barkeeps yelled ‘86-it' to hide the liquor and signal the patrons to quickly exit the back door.

The Maven's Word of the Day has some additional discussion:

The ultimate origin of eighty-six is unknown. The most widely accepted theory is that eighty-six is rhyming slang for nix[.] One problem with this theory is that rhyming slang has never been very popular in the United States. Another problem is that it doesn't account for the origin of other numeric codes such as [eighty-two, ninety-five, and ninety-nine], which would seem to be related to eighty-six.

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    I think the #86 being a backdoor is very plausible, particularly in a speakeasy.
    – Orbling
    Commented Feb 27, 2011 at 14:28
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    I'm inclined to go with the Delmonaco Resaurant explanation as in my limited experience of the term it's been used to say an item has been removed from the menu. I've not heard it used in any other context. Commented Jan 23, 2013 at 22:54

Cecil Adams, author of the "Straight Dope" columns, is usually pretty good on etymology and you can read his take on "86" here. His conclusion that it is restaurant code is compelling because there were other code numbers as well, to wit:

Other lunch counter code numbers (I rely here on the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins) include 82, I need a glass of water (80 and 81 at times meant the same thing); 99, the manager is on the prowl; 98, ditto for the assistant manager; 33, gimme a cherry-flavored Coke; 55, I crave a root beer; 19, I yearn for a banana split; and 87-1/2, check out the babe over yonder.

Rhyming slang is not a feature of American English and the suggested cognate with "nix" is non-compelling, except that it actually is thinkable with respect to a restaurant number code.


My husband and I both have extensive experience in the restaurant business, and when something is "86'd," it means it is no longer available. As in, someone would say "86 garlic mashed potatoes" — and it would mean we are out of garlic mashed potatoes for the night. I've heard several different stories on how this term came to be associated with running out of something but a lot of them just seemed like industry myths.


According to the 9 August 1939 article American Slang: A Glossary for Elder Readers in Punch:

Eight-one. Draw a glass of water.

"Eighty-two" is a request for the soda popper tending the water-faucet to draw two glasses of water, "eighty- three," three, and so on, except for one number which has two special meanings, the number

Eighty-six. (1) All out of it; (2) No good.

"Eighty-six on the baked beans," means that the last baked bean has been served and is a convenient way of conveying this information without having to announce the sad fact in so many words in front of the customers who, if they knew there were no more baked beans, would all immediately want some. When gossiping about a mutual acquaintance, "Aw, he's eighty-six!" means that in the opinion of the speaker he is no good.

Also, in the February 1936 article Linguistic Concoctions of the Soda Jerker American Speech Vol. 11 (alternative link) is:

EIGHTY-ONE. Glass of water; also root beer.
EIGHTY-SEVEN AND A HALF. Girl at table with legs conspicuously crossed or otherwise attractive.
EIGHTY-SIX. Item on the menu not on hand.
EIGHTY-TWO. Two glasses of water.


The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (2006) says that eighty-six as a noun referring to "an order barring a person from entering a bar or other establishment" dates to 1943, and that eighty-six as a verb meaning "to eject; to bar from entry" dates to 1955.

Will McGough's Mental_Floss website has a concise collection of competing explanations for the origin of the term, including the prohibition and restaurant terminology theories. The most interesting suggestion he cites involves U.S. Navy terminology in the post–World war II era (which fits in fairly nicely with the coinage dates that Partridge cites):

Another plausible explanation for the saying is brought you by the U.S. Navy’s Allowance Type (AT) coding system that was used to identify and classify the status of inventory. The code AT-6 was assigned to inventory that was designated for disposal, specifically after World War II as the Navy decommissioned many of its warships and went through the process of cleaning out its storerooms where they kept spare parts. During this process, any parts that were labeled AT-6 were considered trash and thrown out. It is easy to see phonetically how this could result in the term “86” and the idea of throwing something away to become synonymous.

I've heard "86" used only once (but memorably)—in San Francisco during the summer of 1978 at a performance by Jack "Jive" Schaeffer and his dixieland band at a nightspot on one of the piers. A very drunk guy wandered in and, during a band break tried to seize the microphone and entertain the crowd. Schaeffer grabbed the microphone back and loudly said "Eighty-six, Whitey," at which point Whitey (a large, strong bouncer) moved quickly to the stage and hustled the drunk out of the building. I couldn't see what occurred outside, but the bouncer returned fairly soon afterward, and the drunk did not.

On the trivia front, I note that Maxwell Smart, the Inspector Clouseau–like bumbling secret agent in Get Smart was Agent 86, presumably because of his suitability for mothballing.

UPDATE (May 17, 2017)

By way of casting doubt on the "AT-6 code" from World War II as the source of "eighty-six" in the noun sense of persona non grata or the verb sense of "eject him," I note that J.E. Lighter, Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang (1994) finds instances of eighty-six in the sense of "we don't have any" dating to the 1920s and 1930s. Here is the first part of Lighter's entry for the term:

eighty-six 1. interj. & adj. (among waiters and bartenders) out of stock; out (of an item ordered by a customer). {1926–35 Watters & Hopkins Burlesque 47: Waiter...If you need any Scotch or gin, sir—...My number is Eighty-Six.....Skid.... Yeah. Eighty-Six. I know. (Waiter exits and Skid draws enormous flask from pocket.)} 1936 A[merican] S[peech] (Feb.) 43: Eighty-six. Item on on the menu not on hand. ...

Lighter also cites an anecdote published in 1943 but pointing to the 1920s, in which eighty-six is used as a noun in the "undesirable customer" sense:

2. n. an unwelcome customer who is to be denied service. 1943 G[ene] Fowler [Good Night,] Sweet Prince[: The Life and Times of John Barrymore] 227 {ref. to 1920's}: There was a bar in the Belasco building...but Barrymore was known in that cubby as an "eighty-six." An "eighty-six"in the patois of western dispensers means, "Don't serve him!"

Attributing "eighty-six" to a World War II decomissioning code doesn't work if allied senses of the word were in use ten to twenty years before that war.

John Ayto & John Simpson, Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang, second edition (2008) repeats the Gene Fowler quotation (although Oxford reports that Fowler's book came out in 1944) and then endorses the rhyming slang theory of the term's origin:

{Prob. rhyming slang for NIX noun [meaning "nothing"].}

I share The Raven's skepticism about citing rhyming slang to explain what appears to be a bit of U.S. slang.

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    Perhaps a silly question but did the AT6 code predate WW2? If it was in use at the end of WW1 (or even before) the naval code could still be the source of the expression. I'm British, I've never heard it.
    – BoldBen
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 9:10

I grew up as a restaurant brat. I was told the expression came from the fact that most alcohol was 86 proof. A drunk patron was 86'd (cut off or removed from teh bar) when he was so drunk his blood was "86 proof".


The term comes from a bar(cat house) in Muroc Dry Lake Ca. (Now Edwards AFB) owned by Pancho Barnes. During the Korean war pilots rotated back to the States and many of them were stationed at Muroc. They would describe dog fighting in which they 86'd enemy MIG's(they were flying F86 Sabre jets). If they became too rambunctious after imbibing a few too many Pancho would let them know that they had to cool it or she would 86 them!