Eight-six my addeled brain

Sometime in the fall of 1985 (when I was a young lad of 13), there was a series of commercials for a car dealer that ran in the Los Angeles area the tag-line of which was "Eighty-six the eighty-fives!"  When I first saw the commercials, I didn’t get it.  But after a few times, I realized they were trying to get rid of their 1985 models so that they could get in the 1986 models.  "Eighty-six the eighty-fives" was a clever, punnish way of expressing this.  From that, I learned that to "eighty-six" something was to get rid of it, and assumed the phrase was coined more or less in that commercial because 1986 was right around the corner.

Fast-forward nearly twenty-four years to the other day while I was at the gym doing my cardio workout.  I was watching an episode of The Greatest American Hero on my iPhone while I worked out, an episode from Season 1 which aired sometime in late 1981 or early 1982.  I’m enjoying the episode when all of the sudden, Bill Maxwell shrieks, "Eight-six those files, kid!" or something to that effect.  Everything came to a screeching halt.  Did he say "eighty-six those files?"  How could he possibly have used that phrase if it wasn’t even invented yet?  After all, the episode aired in 1981 and who knows when it was written.  Was there some kind of Life On Mars-like time warp going on here?

This morning, I did some checking.  Apparently, the first recorded use of the phrase "eighty-six" in this context was sometime in 1935!  (The phrase’s origin is usually related to death or the Prohibition.  (Think "deep six".)

And here I was for the last quarter century thinking it was merely a clever advertising slogan made up around 1986 in order to sell more cars!

One comment

  1. Hello Jamie,

    Out of the blue today I googled “eighty-six the eighty-fives” because I remembered a TV commercial from 1985. It was a Toyota dealer in southern California. More specifically I remember it refering to pick-up trucks.

    paraphrased: we got the new models coming in so we gotta eighty-six the eighty-fives

    From Wikipedia: 86 (term)

    “86”,”86’d”, “86ed”, or eighty-sixed when used as a verb in American English, is a slang term for refusing service or getting rid of something. The etymology of the term is uncertain. The most common theory is that it originated in a New York bar named Chumley’s which escorted unruly guests out its back door, which held the address “86 Bedford St.” During Prohibition, Chumley’s was a speakeasy. When a police raid was imminent, someone would shout “Eighty-six it,” and everyone would exit through the back door.


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