White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed rumors that she was asked to leave a Virginia restaurant on Friday evening. “Last night I was told by the owner of Red Hen in Lexington, VA to leave because I work for @POTUS and I politely left,” Sanders tweeted on Saturday. “Her actions say far more about her than about me.”
In a widely shared tweet about the incident, Brennan Gilmore, director of the environmental group Clean Virginia, posted what appears to be a note left by the restaurant’s staff for the morning manager, reading: “86—Sara Huckabee Sanders.”
In the lingo of restaurants and bars, eighty-six is an old bit of coded slang that can mean that an item on the menu isn’t available—or, as is evidently the case here, that a customer should be removed from the premises. (It’s common lingo among those who tend bar, a profession that entails inconspicuously showing the door to patrons who have had too much to drink.) It has also been turned into a verb, meaning “eject” or “get rid of”: The note seems to suggest that the restaurant wanted to eighty-six Sanders.
Where did this unusual use of the number come from in the first place? As I discussed in an episode of the podcast Lexicon Valley, there are numerous theories about the origins of the eighty-six slang, but most of the theories lack any evidence to back them up. The first known appearance in print, discovered by word sleuth Barry Popik, is in “On Broadway,” the widely syndicated column by New York’s premier gossip-monger Walter Winchell. In the column that appeared on May 24, 1933 (as published in the Akron Beacon Journal), Winchell wrote:
A Hollywood soda-jerker forwards this glossary of soda-fountain lingo out there … “Shoot one” and “Draw one” is one coke and one coffee … “Shoot one in the red!” means a cherry coke … An “echo” is a repeat order … “Eighty-six” means all out of it.
Winchell went on to give more examples of the numerical code used by servers at soda fountains, including eighty-one meaning “a glass of water,” and thirteen meaning “one of the big bosses is drifting around.”