Many readers shared their favorite stories about the origin of the term eighty-six. We don't yet have a definitive proof to confirm a single theory. However, the most popular one, Chumley's bar at 86 Bedford St., is not the right one based on the evidence that the term was in existence before the bar came into being. Here are some selections.
I was told by a bartender friend that the derivation of "eight-six'd" comes from the Old West. Alcohol was once allowed to be 100 proof in strength, and when a regular was known to get disorderly, he was served with spirits of a slightly lower 86 proof. Hence he was "86'd."
-Marc Olmsted (makemarcATaol.com)
New Yorkers know a different origin for this phrase. There's a bar/restaurant called Chumley's, at 86 Bedford Street in Greenwich Village. The bar has a formidable history as a literary hangout, but more importantly, as a speakeasy. The place is known for having no identifying markings on the door, and at least four or five hidden passageways that led to exits, some into adjacent apartment buildings. To "86-it" meant to simply vanish from a "dining" establishment. It's not hard to imagine how that evolved to mean "take a special off the menu", or any of the other interpretations it's given today.
-David G. Imber (imberATmaniform.com)
You missed the ideogram here. I think the origin of the phrase comes from the way the numbers look. The 8 is kicking the 6 out of a bar.
-Bill Wargo (bwargoATvdh.state.vt.us)
I have heard that the origin of this term "eighty-sixed" was referring to the standard height of a door frame. In other words to be thrown out the door, you are 86'ed.
-Leslie Zenz (lzenzATagr.wa.gov)
The term 86 or 86'd has its origins in NYC, where people committed suicide by jumping from the observation deck of The Empire State Building on the 86th floor before a safety fence was installed.
-Billy Rene (billyrene7ATaol.com)
I heard this term came from a shaving powder (Old Eighty-six) from the wild west days. Just a pinch in the rambunctious cowboy's drink would have him heading for the outhouse and out of the saloon.
-Edwin J. Martz (beauregaardhooliganATnetzero.net)
As an apprentice filmmaker I learned to use transparent light filters to change the quality or colour of the image that I was filming. These filters are categorized by number, the highest number being an 85 filter. The mythical 86 filter would be totally opaque, not letting through any light at all. Hence, I learned, the origin of the verb 86, to get rid of something in the way an 86 filter would completely delete any image in front of the camera from striking the film.
-Fred Harris (fred.harrisATutoronto.ca)
While working as a waitress, I was told that "86" referred to the number of ladles it took to empty an army pot of soup. After 86 servings, the pot was empty.
-Amy LaPrade (amy.lapradeATpiperrudnick.com)
The United States military has what is called the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Article 86 of the UCMJ is Absence Without Leave. (commonly called AWOL).
-Richard Jefferson, U.S. Navy Seabees [Retired] (rjeffersATsrrc.ars.usda.gov)
I heard that this expression originated in New York City back in the days when there was a saloon on every street corner and elevated trains ran along the lengths of the major avenues. One of the lines terminated at 86th Street, at which point the conductors would eject the drunks who had fallen asleep on the train. Sometimes the drunks were belligerent. The conductors took to referring to them as "86's."
-Tom Fedorek (tom.fedorekATcitigategis.com)
It is a holdover from journalism days when news was delivered over the teletype. To expedite the process, sometimes coded numbers were sent for common phrases and actions. For example, when a story was complete, the number "30" was sent. To this day, copy editors in newspapers still use the number 30 at the bottom center of the last page of a story. Also, (I've been told), when an item was sent in error or to be discarded, the number "86" was used.
-Mark Gadbois (mgadboisAThotmail.com)
I had thought that this term had been derived from military shorthand and referred to the phone dial (when it had letters on it). The T for Throw is on the 8 key and the O for Out is on the 6 key - hence something tossed is 86'd.
-Curtis S Morgan (morgan.csATmellon.com)
I was always under the impression that the expression was nautical. Something like "86 leagues or feet", with the idea that putting something that deep down in the ocean was discarding it.
-Teresa Bergfeld (bergfeldATagctbb.org)