The Grammarphobia Blog

Why do we say “eighty-six it”?

Q: Where did the slang expression “eighty-six it” come from? The common understanding of this phrase is to get rid of something, but how did this come to be?

A: The noun “eighty-six” is restaurant slang “indicating that the supply of an item is exhausted, or that a customer is not to be served,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED’s earliest published reference is from 1936: “Eighty-six, item on the menu not on hand.”

The verb “eight-six,” according to the OED, means “to eject or debar (a person) from premises; to reject or abandon.” The OED gives this citation from 1959: “Eighty-sixed some square bankers from the temple.”

As for the origin of “eighty-six it,” the short answer is that the expression probably originated as rhyming slang for “nix it.” But there are a lot of other theories, including one supposedly involving a Prohibition-era speakeasy named Chumley’s at 86 Bedford Street in New York City. Michael Quinion’s Web site World Wide Words has an informative item on “eighty-six.”