I came across a phrase, “86 to sb.” in the following paragraph of an article titled “The owner of the Red Hen explains why she asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave,” in the Washington Post (June 23), that comes with a picture of an actual paycheck issued by the restaurant showing the code, “86” above the name of a recipient.

The paragraph reads;

If you ever heard the term “to 86 someone,” it comes from the restaurant industry – code to refuse service, or alternatively to take an item off the menu.

I’m curious to know why the number 86 came to represent the refusal of service at service establishments. Does someone know the provenance?


I noticed that my post duplicates with the similar question posted in 2011, but I dont' think I find a convincing source of its provenance (first appearance, sources, usage trend, currency). It seems that the word gained recency and life with the restaurant owner's refusal to serve Sarah Huckabee in her Mexican restaurant. Is there any new source of its origin than ones I saw on the previous post?

I checked both Cambridge and Oxford online dictionaries for this word. Cambridge doesn't carry this word.

Oxford Dictionaries define "eighty six" as;

1.(informal) Eject or bar someone from a restaurant, bar etc.

2.Reject, discard or cancel.


1930s (as a noun) used in restaurants and bars to indicate that a menu item is not available or that a customer is not to be served. Perhaps rhyming slang for nix, which sounds like a bit overstretched assumption to me.

The currency of the word or number - 86 is unexpectedly high based on google Ngram.

The usage can track back to earlier than 1800 (at 0.002% level) and keeps rising up to 0.00672% level in 2000.

  • 1
    I've always understood "86 someone" to be gangland slang for killing them. I vaguely suspect a nautical origin. But Urban Dictionary gives a different slant, somewhere between your understanding and mine.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jun 24, 2018 at 22:29
  • A good reason to eat meals at home.
    – Bread
    Commented Jun 24, 2018 at 23:06
  • 1
    It seems the other question should be closed as a duplicate of this one. The other question lacks context and research.
    – JJJ
    Commented Jun 25, 2018 at 6:17
  • 1
    @JJJ the answers on the older question are much better though. There's no comparison.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 25, 2018 at 9:13
  • Yoichi, I hope the Google Ngram results that you speak of do not refer to the number 86 in isolation. The vast majority of instances will refer to the mathematical number and NOT to its slang meaning.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 25, 2018 at 9:14

1 Answer 1


eighty six, an article from WorldWideWords is revealing. Origins vary from a bar, a drunk, restaurant practices, British shipping, a New York streetcar or just a rhyme?

And here's another reference to Chumley's Bar and "no more for you." urban dictionary

And the etymology of eighty six: to eliminate ~1936. My sense is of origin lies here, and the other posted references lend 'color'.

  • 1
    Are the first two sentences, actually sentences? There are no verbs? Eighty-six Worldwide Words literally means there are 86 words worldwide.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 25, 2018 at 8:38
  • @Mari-LouA aye!
    – lbf
    Commented Jun 25, 2018 at 11:29

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.