"An Uplifting Origin of 86" (Dundes, AMERICAN SPEECH)

Bapopik at AOL.COM Bapopik at AOL.COM
Sat Jan 12 00:33:51 UTC 2002

   I just received AMERICAN SPEECH, vol. 76, no. 4, Winter 2001.  I was shocked when I saw, on pages 437-440:

ALAN DUNDES, _University of California, Berkeley_

   I put things on ADS-L.  And, just recently, I posted a Walter Winchell citation from the Soda Jerk language of California, dated in 1933.  Thus, wrong on Page 439 is: "Inasmuch as _eighty-six_ 'menu item not on hand' was first documented in 1936 by Bentley in _American Speech_...."
   Dundes goes on:

   The Empire State Building was completed and open to the public in May 1931 (Tauranac 1995, 19).  In the Empire State Building, the first observation point is located on the 86th floor.  Even if one wished to go up to the 102d-floor observatory, one would still have to first exit the elevator at the 86th floor.  Hence, _eighty-six_ meant "Everybody out!"  And that, I suggest, is the origin of _eighty-six_!

   If Dundes has a _new_ historical citation--which he doesn't have in this note--that's one thing.  But guessing stuff like this has just got to be stopped.  You can't make up stuff!  Why was this published in AMERICAN SPEECH?
   If "86" was from New York City--the Empire State Building, or anywhere else--Walter Winchell would have had it.  Tauranac, who wrote the book on that building, would have mentioned it, with a good, solid cite.
   Our best evidence (several citations now) shows "86" in the soda jerk slang of the West.  If anyone has any more cards, then show them on the table.
   But this folk etymology guessing in AMERICAN SPEECH, ahhh...!

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