Read This Post… Then 86 It

October 6, 2012 at 12:42 am Leave a comment

Last week, I was riding train 86 to Philadelphia for business travel. A young coworker was on the same train, and when I mentioned that such a train number seemed inauspicious, she stared at me with a blank look.

“You know, like Maxwell Smart’s agent number,” I said.

Still nothing.

“Like ‘to discard’ or ‘to put the kibosh on’?” I suggested.


Perhaps I’m just too old.

There are many theories as to the derivation of using the number 86 as a verb.

Cecil from The Straight Dope suggests that it derives from a number code used by restaurants in the 1920’s. It supposedly meant, “We’re all out of that,” and it was often the response of a chef or maitre’d when asked by a server for a particular item. Cecil had this to say:

Why 86 and not, say, the square root of 2? The most plausible explanation I’ve heard is that 86 is rhyming slang for “nix.”

The Oxford English Dictionary tentatively states “it seems that” this rhyming etymology is plausible. But with nothing more than an “it seems that” from the OED, this should be considered nothing more than a vague theory.

Some things to know about 86:

  • Not coincidentally, there are 86 days left in 2012.
  • 8610 = 2226
  • 286 is the largest known power of 2 that contains no zeroes
  • 86 = 32 + 42 + 52 + 62

A little research found that other numbers have been used to mean other things:
99: The manager is on the prowl.
98: The assistant manager is on the prowl.
87½: Take a look at that babe over there.
82: I need a glass of water.
69: [You already know.]
68: You gimme one, and I’ll owe ya. (Thanks, George Carlin!)
55: Can I have a root beer, please?
48: All hell breaks loose.
33: Can I have a Cherry Coke, please?
19: Can I have a banana split, please?
13: Throw it in the trash can.
13: To die.
6: A smooth transaction.

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Pizza in the Park Where I’ll Be in October

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About MJ4MF

The Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog is an online extension to the book Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. The blog contains jokes submitted by readers, new jokes discovered by the author, details about speaking appearances and workshops, and other random bits of information that might be interesting to the strange folks who like math jokes.

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October 2012

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