Blog of an aspiring foodie

Don't 86 the duck!

Posted by beer_chris on 22-February-2006

Saw a show at the Mucky Duck last night. Actually, not just any show, a Trish show. Show started at 8, so I showed up at about 6:30 to have a pint or two and complete my PMP practice test (aside – really wishing I could have a pint or two when I take the real exam. The questions are insanely 'managerspeak'. I had to read each question and answer twice just to try and digest what they mean)

Interestingly, the co-owner was at the bar with her laptop, reading out loud an interesting discussion thread on the background of the of the term 'eighty sixed'. An Austrian chef had posted to some type of food/restranteur discussion board asking where this term came from – that he had just moved to a job in America and did not understand the meaning or origin of the phrase. The idiom in question is used often in restaurants to refer to items that should be removed for the menu (or are otherwise out of stock, as in 'eighty six the Caesar salad, the anchovies weren't in the delivery today'.

In any event. the reply posts posited a couple of theories, but one seemed about right, perhaps because it was backed up in two separate answers. The winning theory was that the term emerged at the legendary Delmonicos restaurant in New York, which never had a certain rib-eye steak dish. The item was number '86' on the menu, so whenever something was missing or had to be removed from a menu, it was referred to as being eighty sixed, or going the way of this AWOL steak entree.

Another theory held that graves used to be dug to a standard length of 8 feet and of course, 6 feet deep. Since that theory ignored the logical third number (width) of a grave, everyone seemed to agree with the Delmonicos theory.

Just checked the 'Food Lover's Companion', which has the term but no background. Interestingly, I did some searching now that this post is complete, and found what is probably the site in question (although the questioning chef is Russian, and may or may not be a chef – I'll leave my previous data above for interesting proof of the power of hearsay). Interesting ideas here – especially the one about telegraph/morse code signals.

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