FW: eighty-six or 86; short-order cookery language

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Sun Jul 1 19:02:02 UTC 2007

On 7/1/07, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu> wrote:
> At 9:35 AM -0500 7/1/07, Cohen, Gerald Leonard wrote:
> >I'm presently away from my reference books, but IIRC there's an
> >explanation given in an American Speech article which derives this
> >86 from the number of stories in the Empire State building. I know
> >the number of stories is now considered to be 102, but somehow it
> >was once considered to be 86. (Maybe the very top of the building
> >has something to do with the discrepancy.)
> The open observation deck was on the 86th floor (still is, for all I
> know), so effectively that was the top for purposes of viewing the
> city at one's leisure, for looking through those binocular machines
> that one put a nickel into (or was it a dime?  memory fails), and
> from which one pondered whether it was really possible to kill
> someone by dropping a penny on their head.  (Young whippersnappers we
> were.)  We all knew there were 102 stories, but the 86th floor was
> the relevant top for most purposes.
> I have no idea whether this relates at all to the restaurant code.

I concur with Barry on this point. If "86" had an ESB origin, then
surely Walter Winchell would have mentioned it in 1933.


--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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